Olney musical: a dose of good medicine

October 07, 1993|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Theater Critic

Olney Theatre hasn't had a lot of luck with new musicals in recent years. Last year's "Wuthering Heights" was more like "Withering Heights"; 1990's "Dennis the Menace" proved that even on stage a comic-strip character can remain two-dimensional; and as to 1989's "Lucky Stiff," well, it's difficult to do a musical in which one of the lead characters is a corpse.

Creating a musical in which the protagonist is a bedridden invalid might not seem like a much better idea.

But in "Show Me Where the Good Times Are," Olney has found the nice, little musical that reverses the trend.

There are several reasons why this show works. For starters, composer Kenneth Jacobson, lyricist Rhoda Roberts and book writer Leonora Thuna have chosen an excellent source -- Moliere's "The Imaginary Invalid," which they have transported to New York's Lower East Side at the turn of the century.

Secondly, Jacobson's melodies capture the flavor of that time and place with period sounds ranging from the European music hall to klezmer music; the result is a score that sounds a little like a cross between "Fiddler on the Roof" and "Cabaret."

Then there's the matter of the bedridden invalid. Not only does this devoted hypochondriac occupy center stage throughout much of the show -- set designer James Kronzer has situated him on an ornate bed that revolves on a large, central turntable -- but he's also stuck between the sheets.

To Floyd King, surely one of the area's most talented comic actors, such challenges prove inspirational. In the role of Aaron, as Moliere's Argan has been renamed, King is literally funny down to his toes, which, when finally dangled over the edge of the bed, provoke well-deserved laughter.

Script-writer Thuna has performed some minor reconstructive surgery on Moliere's "Invalid" to conform to the musical format as well as the Jewish immigrant theme. The basic plot is still about a die-hard hypochondriac determined to marry his daughter (Lorraine Serabian) to a doctor (Terrence H. Sweeney). However, letters to an advice column in the Daily Forward provide links between several of the scenes. And the happy ending finds Aaron in love -- not with medicine, but with his fortune-hunting second wife Bella, with whom he is reconciled.

At Olney -- where the production has been delightfully directed by Bill Graham Jr., with choreography by Carole Graham Lehan and musical direction by Rob Bowman -- Bella's return is especially welcome thanks to the adorable performance of Robin Baxter, whose voice has a honey-dipped Gabor Sisters' accent, and who struts her pleasantly plump figure to hilarious effect in the catchy title song.

"Show Me Where the Good Times Are" isn't a new show -- it's a newly reworked one. Its creators were reportedly dissatisfied with the 1975 New York premiere, and while I'm not familiar with that version, I can easily understand why the current revision met with success at New York's Jewish Repertory Theatre over the summer.

As to Olney -- the performance I attended received a gracious standing ovation. With "Tell Me Where the Good Times Are," the musical good times seem to have come to Olney at last.

THEATER REVIEW

What: "Show Me Where the Good Times Are"

Where: Olney Theatre, 2001 Route 108, Olney

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sundays; through Oct. 17

Tickets: $20-$25

$ Call: (301) 924-3400

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