The revue, which combines music, dance and sketches, had its origins in the late 19th century. The Golden Era for such shows was 1916-1932 when Florenz Ziegfeld, George White and Earl Carroll dominated the live entertainment scene. Now they have mostly disappeared from the theatrical scene, being replaced by song cycle shows like Closer Than Ever and Songs for a New World. One place they have continued to thrive is on college campuses, usually poking fun at the college and its courses. Los Angeles probably hasn’t had a steady diet of revues since the heyday of Milt Larsen’s Mayfair Music Hall in the 1970s. Now we can add the name of writer/director Bruce Kimmel to the list as he debuts his new musical revue L.A. Now and Then at Los Angeles City College.
Kimmel, a man of a certain age, has spent his entire life in Los Angeles and he loves the city and he especially loves the city’s history. That is evident from the opening “dum de dum dum” notes from the classic 1950s TV series Dragnet that signals the start of the opening number “This is the City.” The L.A. Chamber of Commerce might consider making this their theme song as it is a love letter to the City of the Angels. Actually the entire revue is a beautiful, heartfelt love letter to the city’s past, showing many of the things that made L.A. unique—Pan Pacific Auditorium, the Sunset Strip, surfers, the Red Cars, kiddie TV hosts, C.C. Brown’s hot fudge sundaes, rococo neighborhood movie palaces, infamous murders—some still around, many long gone.
Kimmel wrote most of the show’s material but he had some great collaborators. The revered Richard M. Sherman (of Mary Poppins fame) contributed the touching “The Whimsey Works” (nicely done by Robert Yacko) about Walt Disney and his animation studio which was located at the corner of Dopey Drive and Mickey Avenue. The spot on “Christmas in Los Angeles” was written by Sherman and his brother Robert. Adryan Russ wrote the lyrics to the haunting tale of “The Black Dahlia,” beautifully performed by Elle Willgues. Russ also provided the lyrics to Shelly Markham’s music for the nostalgic “A Home in Laurel Canyon,” celebrating all the women singer/songwriters that called the canyon their home during the halcyon days of the 1960s & 1970s. Sarah Barnett had the perfect look and voice to evoke the pleasant memories the song evokes.
Paul Gordon’s “Jackie-O” was not about the former First Lady but instead gave Kasper Svendsen a chance to channel his inner surfer boy. In Kimmel’s “Born Too Late,” Kole Martin pleaded for the return of disco as this writer so often has verbalized. Emmy-winning writer Bruce Vilanch wrote the sketch “L.A. Uber Alles,” about the ubiquitous Uber drivers and the L.A. scene. Kimmel wrote the hilarious paean to the famed Olympic Auditorium’s history of wrestling matches with “Every Wednesday Night.” Doug Haverty wrote the nostalgic trek through L.A.’s gay history that was beautifully enacted by Robert Yacko while Kimmel composed the hopeful anthem “We Look Ahead.”
Wayne Moore, Michele Brourman, Karen Gottlieb, Grant Geissman also contributed songs while David Wechter added some Hollywood insider sketches. Lanny Myers wrote the dance music that the young cast grooved to in the “Hullabaloo” segment, with great choreography by Cheryl Baxter. The cast of 14 sounded great in the ensemble numbers while some voices were stronger that others when they went solo. Director Kimmel’s pacing kept the show moving at a fast clip as he gave each cast member a chance to shine. Musical Director Richard Allen led the six-piece on stage band that really rocked it like they were playing the Whisky a Go Go. Natalya Shahinyan and Min Lee’s costumes perfectly brought back to life the various styles and distinctive looks of the various decades. The projections of all things L.A., well executed by Art & Soul Design and Projections Supervisor Vern Yonemura, triggered many memories. As did this entire evening.
Caminito Theatre, Los Angeles City College, 855 N. Vermont Ave. in Los Angeles. Ends May 21. 323-953-4000 ext. 2990 or www.theratreacademy.lacitycollege.edu