The artists at Musical Theatre Guild in Glendale have a mission: to do staged readings of lesser-knows musicals utilizing the group's extraordinary talent pool. Well, you can’t get more lesser-known than Fade Out - Fade In, a trouble-ridden Broadway production of 1964 that starred Carol Burnett and ran for 271 performances. Despite the show's mixed notices, Carol Burnett was a big enough draw to keep it going, but along the way they were forced to close the show for several months because of Burnett’s “illness” and her replacement's inability to learn the lines. After much legal wrangling Ms. Burnett was contractually forced to resume the role. It's no wonder she never did another stage show.
The Musical Theatre Guild was not burdened with these problems. How could they be, with only 25 hours of rehearsal?
This tuner by the great Jule Styne, with a book by Comden and Green and directed by George Abbott with choreography by Ernie Flatt, had all the elements of a winner. But Fade Out - Fade In is definitely not that. At best it is a mediocre musical with not one tune that has survived into the pop culture. Its showbiz story of a girl’s rise in Hollywood has been done to death and with better results (think 42nd Street for one). The show’s one attribute seemed to have been Carol Burnett.
The Musical Theatre Guild comes to the rescue, presenting a worthy revival. The production is helped by a good cast led by Beth Malone (not Burnett, but then who is?), Damon Kirsche in a wonderful over-the-top performance as an arrogant Hollywood B actor, Paul Keith at his cuddly best as the studio head, and Dan Callaway as his son and the love interest of Ms. Malone’s character. There are lots of wonderful voices and really talented actors here, but the best thing was the creative and lively direction by Lewis Wilkenfeld. I knew Mr. Wilkenfeld as the Artistic Director of Cabrillo Music Theatre in Thousand Oaks, but reading his bio I discovered he has directed several past MTG shows. Kudos also to the musical direction by Dean Mora.
The Musical Theatre Guild's Fade Out - Fade In played at the Alex Theatre in Glendale on Monday Nov. 9th and then again in Thousand Oaks at the Scherr Forum. Take in one of their shows; it’s worth it.