There’ll be no louder peals of laughter in the South Bay over the next few weekends than those emanating from Rolling Hills Estates as the Norris Center For The Performing Arts presents an all-around splendid revival of Marc Camoletti’s saucy, sexy French farce Boeing-Boeing under James W. Gruessing’s sparkling direction.

Camoletti’s Don Juan-like hero Bernard (David Engel), an American architect living in Paris in the early 1960s, has found a most delectable way of having his gâteau and eating it too. Thanks to a book of airline timetables he keeps always at hand, Bernard has managed to juggle a grand total of three international air hostess fiancées, aided and abetted in this romantic deception by his disapproving but loyal French maid Berthe (Tracy Lore).

Each of Bernard’s fiancées shares his luxurious Parisian digs two days a week. Mondays and Tuesdays belong to perky all-American Gloria (Evie Hutton), Wednesdays and Thursdays to Italian bombshell Gabriella (Suzanne-Elyse Choplin), and Fridays and Saturdays to German dynamo Gretchen (Elaine Hayhurst). Bernard reserves Sundays for R & R, or perhaps just R, there already having been plenty of R the six previous days.

Boeing-Boeing’s frenetic web of a plot unfolds over a single day during which a pair of events rock Bernard’s heretofore perfect world. The first is a visit from his naïve, nebbishy, perhaps even virginal Wisconsin school chum Robert (Larry Raben), who, once informed about Bernard’s juggling act, finds himself at first aghast, then green with envy, and ultimately eager to emulate Bernard’s lothario ways. The second is news of the introduction of the Super-Boeing, a jet whose greatly increased speed will mean all-new schedules for Bernard’s three fiancées. Add to that a combination of delayed flights and severe turbulence and you have the perfect setup for a master farce.

Act One prepares us for the frantic mayhem of Act Two when, as we’ve been eagerly anticipating all the way up to intermission, all three fiancées find themselves in Bernard’s apartment. Bernard of course, must find a way to keep them apart, a task somewhat facilitated by the seven doors leading off from the living room. (As in any farce, at least half a dozen doors are de rigueur. Otherwise, there could be no hiding behind them or emerging from them or slamming them, n’est-ce pas?)

Musical theater connoisseurs have applauded triple-threats Engel, Raben, and Lore in their many award-winning song-and-dance performances on Los Angeles, Broadway, and regional theater stages. Here the stellar trio get the rare opportunity to play it straight (so to speak) in a play-without-music, and all three appear to be relishing the chance to “go legit.”

Broadway vet Engel is the very epitome of suave as playboy Bernard, tossing off bon mot after bon mot with dry sophistication and razor-sharp comic timing, the latter a skill he shares with the entire Norris cast. There’s more than a bit of Raben’s signature Broadway role of The Producers’ Leo Bloom in his fabulously scene-stealing turn as Robert, that is if Leo had gotten the chance to blossom as a ladies man as Robert does. The ever glamorous Lore frumps down to uproarious perfection as Berthe, disapproving French accent, severe pageboy bob, mannish pantsuit and all.

Supporting these three stars are a trio of terrific comediennes who match them every step of the way. Hutton’s Gloria positively bubbles over with Southern cuteness and charm, Choplin gives Gabriella the Italian va-va-voom that made ‘60s stars of Sophia Loren, Claudia Cardinale, and Gina Lollobrigida, and Hayhurst attacks the role of Gretchen with man-eating Teutonic zeal in the evening’s most show-stoppingly hilarious featured performance.

Gruessing’s eye-catching rendering of Bernard’s Parisian digs has just the right swinging ‘60s look and feel, along with every one of the seven doors specified in Camoletti’s script. (Take away one and there’s simply not be enough of them for Bernard and friends to run and hide.) Christina Munich lights Bernard’s flat (and Christina Bayer’s spot-on costumes) with her accustomed finesse. Chris Warren Murry is stage manager.

There’s probably no mid-sized Southland theater with a better track record at comedies than the Norris, as audiences who’ve attended their laugh-filled revivals of Leading Ladies, The Odd Couple, and No Sex Please, We’re British can easily attest to. The uproariously funny Boeing-Boeing upholds that record, and then some.

Norris Center for the Performing Arts, 27570 Norris Center Drive, Rolling Hills Estates.

–Steven Stanley
January 27, 2012
Photos: Ed Krieger

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