For the past fourteen years, Los Angeles theatergoers have been thanking their lucky stars for Musical Theatre Guild and its prodigiously talented members. If it weren’t for MTG, Southland musical theater lovers would have missed out on seeing such forgotten Broadway gems as Fade Out – Fade In, High Spirits, Seesaw, As Thousands Cheer, It’s A Bird … It’s A Plane … It’s Superman, and Street Scene, and that’s just in the last four seasons.  Even when the show being revived is perhaps best left forgotten, like September’s Stop The World – I Want To Get Off, MTG subscribers are guaranteed sensational performances by Broadway and regional theater vets at the top of their game.

That’s the case with Monday’s Irma La Douce, a 1960 Paris-to-London-to New York transfer that doesn’t hold up nearly as well as the above-mentioned MTG hits.

Alexandre Breffort’s original French book and its English language adaptation by Julian More, David Heneker, and Monty Norman centers around Irma La Douce, Paris’s most successful streetwalker. Nestor le Fripé, a penniless law student, falls in love with her and, because she is selling her sexual favors to more men than he would care to imagine, hits on a plan to keep her for himself.  He will assume the disguise of a rich older man, “Oscar,” who will insist upon being Irma’s only mec.  Not only does Irma not recognize Nestor with his spectacles and fake beard, she somehow fails to recognize Nestor Jr. either. Ultimately, the stress of maintaining a double identity (and working multiple jobs to pay Irma her hourly fee) proves too much for Nestor, and he determines to bump the old fuddy-duddy off. Once he has ”murdered” his fictitious rival, however, Nestor is unable to convince the police that “Oscar” never existed, and is put on trial for murder.

Though the jokes are often creaky and the subject matter more than a tad distasteful, stellar lead performances by Robin De Lano as Irma and Dan Callaway as Nestor/“Oscar,” entertaining supporting work by Michael Kostroff, an all-male triple-threat ensemble, and a number of tuneful melodies by Marguerite Monnot, add up to an evening that is not without certain charms.

Under Roger Castellano’s often clever direction, the cast make the most of the material.  In her first big MTG leading role, DeLano wins hearts with her jaunty, saucy take on the world’s oldest profession and her fine song and dance skills.  Callaway, a musical theater leading man in the classic John Raitt/Gordon McRae tradition, makes for a tall, blond, and handsome Nestor, with gorgeous pipes to match his good looks.

The inimitable Kostroff has lots of fun and gets lots of laughs as Bob Le Hotu, proprietor of the bar where Irma’s johns hang out, though his role (and the show itself) is rather too narration-heavy.  Irma’s other customers are MTG members Joe Hart, Steven Hack, Christopher Carothers, Brandon Michael Perkins, and Jeffrey Polk, and needless to say they perform their roles impeccably, especially considering the mere 25 hours of rehearsal permitted by Actors’ Equity.  Completing the cast in multiple roles (and in expert fashion) are David Holmes, Roy Leake, Jr., John Massey, Barry Pearl, and 1960 Irma La Douce original Broadway cast member Rudy Tronto.

A handful of Irma La Douce songs are likely to stick in your head, partly because of their lovely melodies, partly because a number of these melodies are reprised, sometimes with entirely different titles and lyrics, as when a lively “Valse Milieu” becomes the more plaintive “Irma La Douce.”  The lively “Dis-Donc” and the romantic “Our Language Of Love” are the best of the bunch. Music direction by Ron Colvard (on piano) backed by six addtional musicians is at the level MTG patrons have come to expect. Director/choreographer Castellano spices the evening’s proceedings with some lively dance numbers and some Keystone Cop-like physical comedy.  (Broadway and L.A.’s David Engel is dance captain.)  Costumes by Shon LeBlanc and Valentino’s Costumes get mostly high marks, an A for the men’s fancy period wear, a lower grade for Irma’s pink sweater and black skirt and stockings which could use a bit more va va voom. Art Brickman is production stage manager, assisted by Ricarda McKissock and Christopher Rosko.

MTG concludes its 2009-2010 season in June with Das Barbecu, a five-performer Texas hootenanny country-western retelling of Wagner’s The Ring Cycle. Now that will be different!  I’m a-getting’ ready to hoot and holler already!

–Steven Stanley
April 19, 2010
The Alex Theatre, Glendale

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