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Theatre Review (LA): High Spirits by Martin and Gray (from Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit)

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The Musical Theatre Guild continues to present the more obscure musicals that may have been put aside in favor of the more popular. One such musical is High Spirits by Hugh Martin and Timothy Gray, based on that very famous and oft-produced Noel Coward play, Blithe Spirit. It is not a play that one would feel could be a musical, but Martin and Gray came up with a delightful and witty score and had the sense not to stray too far from Coward’s original.

The original production was blessed with a wonderful cast, with the inimitable Tammy Grimes, plus Charles Woodward and Louise Troy, and starring the hilarious Bea Lillie. I saw this production on Broadway and I have never laughed so hard. Ms. Lillie was a hoot and often stopped the show to converse with the audience. I am sure Coward wasn’t entirely happy, because the show became more the "Bea Lillie Show" than a musicalization of Blithe Spirit. Nevertheless it made him a pile of money. As Streisand was to Funny Girl, Bea Lillie was to High Spirits: a tough act to follow.

In true Musical Theatre Guild fashion they have tackled it, and how. First they chose Richard Israel to direct. He seems to have a real knack for bringing obscure pieces back to life. The cast was exemplary and some of the best talent available for these roles in Los Angeles. Damon Kirche was the frazzled husband, Charles Condomine. He is always good in leading man roles such as “Curly“ in Oklahoma but it is a pleasure to see him stretch into being a comic character leading man.

The lovely Teri Bibb, especially lovely in her last gown supplied by Shon LeBlanc, was strong as the current wife of Charles Condomine who must learn to put up with the ghost of her husband’s first wife Ruth, played with gusto and attack by Michele Duffy giving one of her funniest performances to date. Carol Kline gave her all as Madame Arcati, the local psychic and conjurer of the dead. The whole cast seemed just perfect for the occasion.

Unfortunately the Guild only presented this "staged reading" (though the actors knew their lines) once, on February 22nd at the Alex Theatre. Try to see what they have to offer.

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