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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
3hree: The Mice, Lavender Hill Girl, The Flight of the Lawnchair Man
In a gutsy move, Center Theatre Group Artistic Director Gordon Davidson has let his Ahmanson Theatre subscribers in on the roots of the creative process. Normally a nest for previously proven hits, the Ahmanson faced a blank spot in its schedule when the development process for a revival of The Flower Drum Song, with a new book by Tony-winner David Henry Hwang, hit a time snag. Legendary producer Hal Prince was in the right place at the right time with 3three, a trilogy developed at his Prince Music Theater in Philadelphia.
Prince’s mandate of developing new works and artists coincides with Davidson’s. However, the Ahmanson is usually the pot-boiler that keeps the Taper and CTG’s many small development programs bubbling. Whether this charming but slight introduction to stars of tomorrow will satisfy Ahmanson audience expectations is iffy.
If the three have a common theme, it’s middle America and the pursuit of the American dream. The first musical, The Mice, is inspired by Virga Vay and Allan Cedar from a novel by Sinclair Lewis, author of the classics Main Street and Babbitt. Lewis has never been known for cheerful Americana. In this one Virga (Valerie Wright) raises mice, which she lets loose in houses so her lover, exterminator Allan, played with hilarious hopeful hesitancy by John Scherer, can send the home owners off for hours, don a smoking jacket and play house with Virga, unbeknownst to their respective spouses. It’s a wonderful concept, set to jazz tunes by composer Laurence Crawford O’Keefe, lyricist Nell Benjamin, book writer Julia Jordan. Choreographer Rob Ashford, whose Thoroughly Modern Millie is coming to Broadway and director Brad Rouse, who will direct Bloomer Girl for New York’s Encore series, bring their considerable talents to bear in alleviating Lewis’s tragic ending.
Lavender Girl, the middle play, makes a lyric center piece. This familiar ghost story has had so many incarnations that I can’t remember where I heard it first. High roller Colin (Will Gartshore), who has a beautiful tenor voice, gloats about finding a girl to love tonight and leave tomorrow. The girl he almost runs down with his car, nicknamed Lavender (Rachel Ulanet), makes him forget leaving. "It’s the beginning and the end of everything," he realizes, in the show’s soaring final ballad "Real Enough To Change My Mind", inspired by Lavender, who changed his life in an hour. Composer-lyricist John Bucchino and book writer James D. Waedekin have woven the old ghost story around a core of self-realization that gives it resonance and suited the words and, no pun intended, haunting music to their theme. Director Scott Schwartz sets it solidly in the 1920s Jazz Age, melding its fantasy and ballroom scenes sensitively and believably.
Maestro Prince takes the helm himself to launch The Flight of the Lawnchair Man, the evening’s finale. Here again, Jerry (Eddie Korbich) pursues his American dream of flying by hitching helium balloons to his lawnchair. Even up in the air, he confronts the Organization in the person of macho pilot Big Jack Preston, again giving John Scherer a chance to display his versatility as an actor. Prince’s famous flair for vivid staging and characterization make the most of Peter Ullian’s book. Though based on a true incident, it’s the most innovative of the trio. Robert Lindsey Nassif’s sly music & lyrics find room for arias from Leonardo Da Vinci, Charles Lindberg and Amelia Earhart.
Performed without intermission, the plays are bridged by letting us into the dressing room which is stretched across the back of the stage behind a sheer scrim. It’s a fascinating spectacle in itself, as dressers zip the cast who all appear in all three playlets in and out of costumes and set changers rearrange props in the forestage. Walt Spangler did all three scenic designs: quirky for The Mice, gothic for Lavender Girl, bright for Lawnchair Man.