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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
I'm Just Wild About Harry

I come from a worrier family— Benjamin Babblerley, portraying Harry's aunt
Casey Zeman is definitely good enough to give up his day job! In real life he spends his days in real estate. But his heart's profession is acting, and he's terrific at it. As the star of a new musical, I'm Just Wild About Harry,he sings, dances, cross- dresses, and steals the show.

I'm Just Wild About Harry, currently having its world premiere at the Crown City Theatre in North Hollywood, is a comedy/burlesque based on the 19th century play Charley's Aunt. Only this time it's Harry's aunt---played by Casey Zeman.

The setting is a student apartment at Old Milwaukee University belonging to Jack Chesney (Blake Edward). He and his pal Harry (an over-the-top Chris Shepardson) are preparing to propose to their girlfriends, Margie (a sparkling Tara Brown) and Katy (the petite Tracy Mullholland). But it is 1912, so they must have a chaperone for their meeting. Fortuitously, they are about to have a visit from Harry's aunt, a newly widowed billionairess from Brazil whom Harry has never met.

When at the last minute the aunt, Donna Lucia D'Alvadorez, telegraphs to say that she will be delayed, the boys press their music professor, Benjamin Babberley (Zeman), into posing as Harry's aunt. Surprisingly, the baby-faced Zeman, in women's clothing and a curly gray wig, makes a rather fetching aunty. Fetching enough to garner marriage proposals from Jack's father (Vsev Krawczeniuk) and Katy's uncle (James Loren). Or could it be her money?

All this silly plotline is just an excuse for a songfest, as some 21 golden oldies are woven into the script and actually move the action along. A clever and delightful maneuver by William A. Reilly and Gary Lamb, who adapted Brandon Thomas' play, Charley's Aunt and augmented it with the songs of Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, and Eubie Blake, as well as by composers you've probably never heard of: Benny Davis, Con Conrad and J. Russell Robinson ("Margie"), A. Seymour Brown and Nat D. Ayer ("Oh, You Beautiful Doll"), and Geoffrey O'Hara ("K-K-K-Katy").

Another enjoyable innovation is that the songs include the long introductions that composers habitually wrote in the early 1900s, so that you couldn't recognize the song itself until the players launched into the post-introductory lyrics that are familiar to us today.

The cast of 14 includes some notable voices: Tara Brown, Vsev Krawczeniuk, Casey Zeman, and Joanne McGee, who played the real Donna Lucia D'Alvadorez. The dancing, choreographed by Chelsea Rae Bernier, is appropriately demure. The costumes, by Don Nelson, are a mixed bag: the girls' costumes were sweet, Joanne McGee's purple ensemble was spectacular, and the men wear mismatched jackets and pants, although they work as period costumes. Dean Cameron's old-fashioned set is just right: you can almost smell the camphor and mothballs.

Director William A. Reilly keeps the ensemble in the farcical mode—. funny, outrageous, and running amok, as burlesque demands. The solitary exception is Chris Shepardson's overly "cute", Harry with gestures so wild and facial expressions so over-the-top that he appears totally out of sync with the rest of the company.

Reilly, who is co-artistic director of the Crown City Theatre Company, does quadruple duty for this production. In addition to co- adapting the script and serving as director and musical director, he serves as the entire accompanying orchestra, playing piano so eloquently as to make that instrument an additional speaking part.

The Crown City Theatre Company is housed in a comfortable new 72-seat theatre within St. Matthew's LGBT Church .

I'm Just Wild About Harry
By Brandon Thomas, adapted by William A. Reilly and Gary Lamb
Directed by William A. Reilly
Cast: Tara Brown (Margie), Blake Edward (Jack), Sarah French (Ida), Vsev Krawczeniuk (Frank), James Loren (Spettigue), Joanne McGee (Donna Lucia), Tracy Mulholland (Katy), Christ Shepardson (Harry), Casey Zeman (Babberley).
Set Design: Dean Cameron
Lighting Design: Gary Lamb
Costume Design: Don Nelson
Musical Staging: Gary Lamb

Running Time: 2 hours includes one 10-minute intermission
Crown City Theatre Company, Crown City Theatre, 11031 Camarillo Street, North Hollywood, 818-377-4055,
From : 05/10/08 to 06/29/08; opening 05/17/08
Tickets: $20
Reviewed by Cynthia Citron based on May 23 performance

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