Arts & Entertainment » Theater

Onstage 10.19.05

A feast that cannot satiate

When Noel Coward died in 1973, one of his hundreds of lyrics was quoted by hundreds of writers all over the world: "I believe that since my life began / The most I've had is just a talent to amuse."

Except for Coward's many endlessly revived plays, I honestly don't know how much appeal that phenomenal talent still has for a new young audience. But for an older audience such as attends most theaters today the songs, routines, and witticisms that make up Geva's lovingly put-together world premiere production of A Marvelous Party: The Noel Coward Celebration are a feast that cannot satiate.

On Noel Coward's recordings of much of this material, especially his late-in-life cabaret acts in Las Vegas and New York, the audiences react with audible joy to his incomparable delivery of these sentimental, witty, satirically evil, and wise lyrics and lovely melodies. The devisers of this show --- director David Ira Goldstein, musical director Carl J. Danielsen, and the three unusually talented performers, Danielsen, Mark Anders, and Anna Lauris --- admirably find their own delightful ways to make Coward's words and music affect us without ever trying to imitate their inimitable creator. That's impressive.

Anders is an extraordinarily appealing chameleon who finds a variety of appearances, voices, and manners to deliver Coward's haunting "Matelot," glorious patter song "Mad Dogs and Englishmen," dishy "I've Been to A Marvelous Party," and gorgeous "Someday I'll Find You."

Danielsen has enough wit to do justice to the satirical "Mrs. Wentworth Brewster" and enough charm to sing Coward's trademark "If Love Were All." And both men are superb pianists who offer a really showy duo-piano arrangement of Coward's biggest hits with aplomb and genuine wit.

Lauris sings "I'll Follow My Secret Heart" and "Mad About the Boy" attractively (though the latter sneaked in a gay subtext when Coward sang it), but her knockout tour de force is a one-woman presentation of the parody show, The Coconut Girl. She's a likable performer with a strong voice and sufficient dancing talent to climax one number by sliding down to a full side-split on the floor. And all three quote Coward's memorable epigrams with panache.

Not all of Coward's delicious songs could be included. I missed his hilarious "Alice Is at it Again." But director Goldstein and choreographer Patricia Wilcox devise very entertaining twists on presenting the numbers, like the act one finale with all three pleading with "Mrs. Worthington" not to put her daughter on the stage. I also missed some of Coward's additional lyrics to Cole Porter's "Let's Do It" like "Even Liberace... we assume, does it!"; but they've come up with new lyrics of their own to make fun of Bush and Cheney that had the audience loudly laughing and applauding.

Designers Bill Forrester (scenery), David Kay Mickelsen (costumes), and Todd Hensley (lighting) have created an elegant looking show that I think would have pleased Coward. And musicians Tim Blinkhorn, David Labman, and Steve Curry provide stylish accompaniment to the star pianists-singers.

I'll ask Geva's staff members sometime how younger audience members seemed to react to A Marvelous Party during its run here, but it seems to me to be a perfectly titled show.

--- Herbert M. Simpson

You should go if you want to celebrate a "talent to amuse."

A Marvelous Party: The Noel Coward Celebration Tuesdays through Sundays through November 6 | Geva Theatre Center, 75 Woodbury Boulevard | $10.50 to $48.50 | 232-4382,

Sleep when you're dead

Like any venture that requires pulling off that mainstay of foolhardy youth --- the all-nighter --- this plan seems ill-advised. How well can fatigue and comedy mix?

But Geva Comedy Improv troupe's decision to entertain for 25 1/2 straight hours in the first-ever improvathon at least has the appeal of a train wreck. We'll want to see how this ends. In tears? Maybe.

The comedy improv shows at Geva's Nextstage have become a draw for younger audiences, bringing them back into the theater, making the stage a place where cheap beer is sold in cans, songs are composed, and anything can happen. They're a talented and funny bunch.

But 25.5 hours of straight, unadulterated, no doubt highly caffeinated improv comedy? More than a full day's worth of hijinks, shenanigans, and crazy talk? Skits that run on cruelly obscure audience suggestions? The debut --- under extremely untested conditions --- of an improvised soap opera? Oh, we fear the worst.

--- Erica Curtis

You should go if you like things that make you say, "This I gotta see."

Geva Comedy Improvathon starts Friday, October 21, at 10:30 p.m. at Geva Theatre, 75 Woodbury Boulevard. Stick with them for the whole thing ($30 tickets) without snoozing and you win season tickets to the improv shows. But you can just pop in, too ($7). 232-4382,