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Tooling around O'Toole 

by Sara Edlin-Marlowe


Spokane Civic Theatre opened its 55th season with a musical that drew me back into a world that I vividly recall: the l950s. It was a time when we huddled around television, mesmerized by the ability to have entertainment in our own living room. Those of us lucky enough to have access to the screens, housed in wooden boxes (to blend into our living rooms), were initiated into the miracle of television.


In the aftermath of September 11, all Americans were shocked and horrified -- ironically, via television. Thank heaven for the arts; especially theater, for helping to draw us out of our grief and into a healing world of happy remembrance and nostalgia. Wasn't it Franklin Roosevelt who said, "The only thing to fear is fear itself"? So, let go of the fear and get on with the show.


And that's just what Troy Nickerson, director and choreographer, did with his production of My Favorite Year. If you remember the movie with Peter O'Toole, wave it away with your own personal magic wand. Now it's a musical. This production is theater with a Capital "T" and it's a time for returning to the '50s in New York City. A time of staged, live, in your face NOW, commercials for cigarettes, cars and coffee. Dancing girls, singing chanteuses in formals, and the best comedians (male and female) in the business coming live to your very own community theater.


Yes, the production worked for me. It was so wonderful to be enticed into the past, to remember a NYC whose skyline was dominated by the Empire State Building. As a child of 10, I remember peering out a hotel room totally amazed and awed by this spectacle.


The design and technical staff of the Civic, up to their usual good standards, provided us with a magnificent skyline, lit up and glowing throughout, with costumes and sets to remind us of times gone by. Nicely done.


Gary Laing, music director and conductor, did a wonderful job leading the musicians and singers. Some of the numbers may not stay in your brain, but keep us well entertained during the course of the evening.


The story focuses on one of those huge weekly comedy shows (we get the feeling it was Sid Caesar), and hones in on the writing team. The story unfolds through the memory of one young man, Benny Stone (born Steinberg), who occupies the youngest rung on the writing ladder, who actually gets to see his skit performed by one of his childhood big-screen movie heroes, Alan Swan. Of course, Alan is a raging drunk, along with being a suave sophisticate; what he needs is a babysitter, so Benny is appointed.


M. Daniel Magallon, who plays Benny, has such charisma on stage. He is young and talented and captures our hearts immediately. He carries the show. The team of writers -- Sy Benson, Alice Miller and Herb Lee -- are played by three gifted players as well: Thomas Heppler, Kathie Doyle-Lipe and Matthew Harget. Doyle-Lipe is a comedienne extraordinaire and is just fabulous.


Jan Neumann is perfect in her role as the quintessential Jewish mother; she is ably supported by Dennis Ashley, Evelyn Renshaw and Maynard Villers in the Brooklyn "look who's coming to dinner" scene. It's a scream. You have to see it to believe it.


Always a delight on stage is the talented Patrick Treadway as the elusive Alan Swan; and rounding out the strong principals, we have the Comedy Cavalcade's on-stage team of D. Quinton Gigler as King Kaiser, Tami Knoell as K.C. Downing and Mike Stone as Leo Silver. Director-Choreographer, Nickerson, with help from assistant choreographer Sara Ellen M. Hutchison, has a well-tuned ensemble executing all numbers with energy and intention. The ones that lodged in my brain are the "Musketeer Sketch," "If the World were like a Movie" (particularly significant with our own real-life disaster) and "The Gospel According to King."


Do yourself a favor. Go have fun. You deserve it. See a play -- just like those wise Greeks, so long ago, who used to go to the theater to experience something above and beyond themselves. Be transported to a memorable time -- let's say, New York City, circa l954. And enjoy!

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