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Theatre Review (LA): 70 Girls 70 by Kander and Ebb at the Alex Theatre

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Musical Theatre Guild, whose membership consists of some of the best musical comedy talent in Los Angeles, specializes in resurrecting “forgotten” or “underserved” musicals. One such musical is Kander and Ebb’s 70 Girls 7, which ran all of 35 performances. I saw one of the 35 and agree with the critics who gave it mixed notices at best.

The original cast was a mixture of talent (most near, or over, 70 years of age). They included Hans Conreid, Joey Faye, Doodles Weaver, Lillian Roth, and Mildred Natwick. The musical was based on a fabulous Terry Thomas film, Make Mine Mink, still one of my favorites and the reason I laid out the cash for the musical. I was sadly disappointed and in fact, it made me a bit queasy in its treatment of old age. What worked in an English film where eccentricity is a quality to be cherished, became decidedly unfunny (we Americans don’t see ourselves as eccentrics despite the “tea partiers”). As a result I approached my outing to the Alex Theatre in Glendale with trepidation.

I was surprised how funny some of the lines were and how pleasant was the score. The sounds of Kander and Ebb were now evident to these old ears (I am closing in on 70 in a few years). The cast, though hardly in their 70s, gave it their all and seemed to have a lot of fun doing it. I still felt that discomfort with the portrayal of the old, but realized some of that is due to the fact that we don’t cherish our seniors like they do elsewhere in the world.

The cast included David Holmes (in terrific voice), Susan Watson (who played Nanette in the Broadway revival of No No Nanette), Helen Geller hardly showing any age, Barbara Minkus, Paul Keith, Christopher Callen, Deborah-Sharpe Taylor, Eric McEwen, Roy Leake, and the still lovely and always-talented Marsha Kramer (who played Wendy in the first national tour of Peter Pan with Sandy Duncan). Veteran director Jon Bowab did a good job of directing, and Steven Smith, the musical director, played the put-upon pianist Lorraine in a funny bit of casting. Musical highlights were “Coffee in a Cardboard Cup,” Boom Ditty Boom,” “Go Visit Your Grandmother,” and “Elephant song.”

The musical could never make up its mind whether it was a series of songs strung together by a flimsy plot or a full-fledged musical. Performers were constantly stepping outside the play to make comments or sing a song. Must have been Kander and Ebb’s idea of eccentricity. Nevertheless I enjoyed the evening more than I did back in 1971. 70 Girls 70 played at the Alex Theatre in Glendale on Sept 20th and will repeat Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza on Sept 26th.

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About Robert Machray