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Why would anyone stay at home and watch television when they could be at Lucy Stern Theater watching a knock-your-socks-off performance of “A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine”?. It’s that good. Yes, really. Though rarely produced these days, the Palo Alto Players production of “Day/Night” is such a surprisingly delightful departure from most other musicals that it deserves SRO audiences for each of its performances. It’s like getting a “twofer,” because the first act (“A Day in Hollywood”) is a splendidly nostalgic look at the good old days of movie musicals, featuring 14 of the most talented tapping feet on the Peninsula. Then comes Act 2, “A Night in the Ukraine,” which is rather like watching a mash-up of a Marx Brothers movie, a Chekhovian story — and general mayhem all around.
Not to worry if you’re not fond of slapstick comedy, because the overall ballet shoes original film earnestness of the eight talented young performers will win over your heart anyway, It starts out before the audience even enters the theater. Dapper, red-uniformed ushers greet ticketholders at the door and escort them to their seats, (Don’t be surprised if those same ushers show up minutes later, singing their way down the aisles as Act 1 opens.), These same “ushers” proceed onstage to welcome the audience to the world-famous Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and sing the opening number “Just Go to the Movies” as they wait for the movie to start. It turns out to be a long wait, so they improvise in the only way they know how: They sing and dance..
Soon the audience is enthralled by a series of sensational numbers touting the grand old movies — the musicals of the 1930s, in particular. Few of the songs are familiar today (other than “Thanks for the Memory” and some Richard Whiting songs like “On the Good Ship Lollipop”), but this troupe makes sure we’ll love them all. One of the best numbers is “Famous Feet,” which pairs some of the performers downstage with one or two high above on a second level. The conceit, however, is that the audience only sees the legs and dancing feet of the top-level dancers. (They’re imitating dance superstars like Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Judy Garland and others.).
Another knockout tap number is “Doin’ the Production Code,” which, if you’re familiar with Hollywood’s overly restrictive censorship code of the ’30s, is pretty funny, But the thing about “Day/Night” is that — at least on opening night — it didn’t seem to matter whether an audience member was 17 or 70: Everyone laughed at the sometimes-lame jokes and enjoyed every minute this show was on, That’s due in no small measure to director Patrick Klein, who reveals in the program notes that he played Carlo, the Chico Marx role, when he was in college. Klein, who also created two totally different (both top quality) sets for the ballet shoes original film show, pulled a lot of rabbits out of hats to make it a wonderland of fun, He and choreographer Lee Ann Payne must have been jumping for joy to find so many terrifically multi-talented actors who could sing, dance and tap their way into the audience’s hearts..
All are exceptional, but two who stand out (especially in Act 2) are Andrew Ceglio, who channels Groucho Marx (here called Serge B. Samovar) as if he were inhabiting his body. And what a body: Ceglio’s nimble movements make a cooked spaghetti noodle look stiff! His line delivery (and frequent asides to the audience) is awesome — even when some of the puns fall flat. The other ball-of-fire is pint-sized Patty Reinhart, who not only tap dances her little heart out in Act 1, but then becomes a mischievously charming Harpo Marx (called Gino) in Act 2. Her impersonation is so dead-on that you’d swear you were seeing the silent, horn-blowing Marx brother all over again. She is, in a nutshell, simply sensational.
As the snooty rich widow Mrs, Pavlenko in Act 2, Sarah Cook gets to let loose in unexpectedly comic ways, Mohamed Ismail is a charmer as Carlo, Mrs, Pavlenko’s Italian footman who plays a game of musical chairs with Groucho and is perennially smiling, ballet shoes original film It’s difficult not to recognize any of the hard-working cast, so here’s the remainder: Michael Saenz is a dancing genius and plays the manservant Sascha in Act 2; Michelle Skinner has a lovely voice and brings sexy charm to her Act 1 numbers as well as being the hard-to-catch maid in Act 2; Jessica Ellithorpe and Andrew Kracht play the star-crossed lovers in Act 2 as Mrs, Pavlenko’s daughter and the coachman (Ellithorpe is also an excellent singer)..
But what would a musical be without music? Surprisingly in this lively revue, all of it is supplied by two top-drawer pianists, Katie Coleman and Lauren F. Bevilacqua, who pound the ivories with ferocity and verve at two dueling pianos facing each other right in front of the set. Pat Tyler’s wonderful costumes add color and excitement to the production, though it would have been nice for the women’s usher outfits to fit a bit more flatteringly on top. Nikolaj Sorensen lends his talents as technical director, and Jeff Grafton’s sound along with Edward Hunter’s lighting work seamlessly.
So, don’t wait for the sky (or a duck with a secret word) to fall down on you, Go see this special production before it’s sold out, Email Joanne Engelhardt at email@example.com, What: “A Day in Hollywood, A Night in the Ukraine”Produced by: Palo Alto PlayersWhere: Lucie Stern Theater, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo AltoWhen: 7:30 p.m, Thursdays, 8 p.m, Fridays-Saturdays; 2 p.m, SundaysThrough: Feb, 5, Tickets: $25-$55 with discounts available for seniors, ballet shoes original film educators, students, military, groups of 10 or more; 650-329-0891, www.paplayers.org..