THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT Copyright (c) 1995, Landmark Communications, Inc. DATE: Thursday, February 2, 1995 TAG: 9502020022 SECTION: DAILY BREAK PAGE: E5 EDITION: FINAL TYPE: Theater Review SOURCE: BY MAL VINCENT, THEATER CRITIC LENGTH: Medium: 96 lines
COMMONWEALTH Musical Stage quite unashamedly admits that it likes things old. It has dutifully trotted out most of the familiar, likable chestnuts of the repertoire, and roasted a few. In a break from its headlong dash to perform the entire works of Rodgers and Hammerstein, it has now gone back to the hummable Tait College campus for the football musical ``Good News!''
Happily, this turns out to be that rare musical vehicle that may be just right for this company. More than anything else, it requires youth and energy - the two ingredients they most possess. More attractively, ``Good News!'' is so old that it is new. ``Good News!'' has seldom been produced locally and was recently revamped by the Musical Theater of Wichita with a new script and arrangements. If anything, it is a welcome respite from the overly familiar scores chosen in recent seasons. (The respite is brief because the pre-curtain speech revealed that the theater is going to do ``Oklahoma!'' next season.)
With Mary Jane Houdina, the company has found a director who is also a choreographer. This perks up the dancing, usually the ingredient that is most lacking with this group. Houdina has whipped her boy dancers into athletic kicks and shifty moves that make for lively stepping - and might even work on a football field.
``Good News!'' was first produced in 1927 on Broadway, followed by a 1930 movie version that almost no one has seen. The version we all remember is the 1947 MGM musical edition that starred Peter Lawford as the football star and June Allyson as the sweet bookworm who won him.
The 1974 revival starred Alice Faye and Virginia's own John Payne (who was replaced at the Broadway opening by Gene Nelson). It flopped partly because it was ``updated'' to the Depression rather than sticking with the '20s, where guys were sheiks and gals were shebas.
In this latest revival, the jokes are obvious and the entire evening is little more than a medley of hit songs held together with a little campy dialogue. The director, though, has been wise enough to use this in a slightly sarcastic way that allows us to laugh with the show, not at it. There is a vague hint that everyone on stage knows just how corny these lines are. A throwback to a simpler time, after all, is not so bad when it comes to musical theater.
The songs are surprising gems, strung together with an almost invisible plot. You don't need a thought in your head for this show - just stay in tune if you're going to hum along.
While sitting there, you may marvel that you never knew some of these standards were from ``Good News!'' And you'd be right. They weren't. ``Button Up Your Overcoat'' is from ``Follow Through.'' ``Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries'' originated in the 11th edition of ``George White's Scandals'' and ``You're the Cream in My Coffee'' comes from a show called ``Hold Everything.''
That leaves little that actually came from the original ``Good News!'' Of course ``Varsity Drag'' did. Wherever they came from, the evening also includes such hummable delights as ``The Best Things in Life Are Free,'' ``Lucky in Love'' and ``Keep Your Sunny Side Up.'' There also are such curious clunkers as something called ``Never Swat A Fly'' and ``He's a Ladies Man.''
In the large and energetic cast, Kim S. Goldfeder is the crowd pleaser as the pushy and spunky Babe who gives up Beef (a football player) for a skinnier football player. April Heeren is delightfully sweet, in a non-saccharine way, as the wallflower who wins the football hero. Tony Yadzinski takes the hero role in a likably boyish manner that manages to suggest that all the fame and the girls have been thrust upon him. Courtney Tierney and Jim B. Gardner are the faculty members (teaching astrology and football respectively).
The staging is filled with pastel colorings and even an onstage vintage car. The orchestra, under the direction of David S. Kunkel, had a bad night, often hitting clinkers, particularly in the brass.
The sound system continues to be a misfortune that apparently defies modern technology. Upon occasion, unsuspecting performers get blasted with sound when they speak or sing into a hidden mike on another performer's shoulder or such. The sound technicians need to figure out the whole mix so that performances are not unnecessarily disfigured.
The audience was obviously delighted by the onstage football game in which the teams performed in slow motion with a goal post flying in from above. Tait College wins again, and so do audiences in the market for vintage musicals - the way musicals used to be.
This show has a sense of style, a sense of period, and some fine bursts of energy. ILLUSTRATION: THEATER REVIEW
What: ``Good News!'' words and music by DeSylva, Brown and
Who: Presented by Commonwealth Musical Stage, directed and
choreographed by Mary Jane Houdina, musical direction by John Lehr
Oprar, featuring Hunter Bell, Jim B. Gardner, Kim S. Goldfeder,
April Heeren, Courtney Tierney and Tony Yadzinski.
When: 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: Virginia Beach Pavilion Theater
Tickets: $7.50 (students), $15, $25, $30 at the Pavilion Box
Office or call 340-5446 for reservations