by Michael Bowen

Musical revues make for good concerts and bad plays. They're more like under-produced Las Vegas floor shows than genuine theater. Songs get wrenched out of context; listeners get whipsawed from romance to comedy to poignant loss. Singers "characterize" songs with contrived acting. With just a handful of singers and a piano or two, revues crave intimacy -- and get lost inside 1,200-seat auditoriums. In contrast, the best musicals insert songs because the plot needs to advance and because dialogue alone won't express what the characters are feeling; revues, which revel in plotlessness and shallow characterization, do neither. Instead, revues run show tunes up lots of musical flagpoles and hope that somebody will start saluting.

Well, let's salute a portion of what Some Enchanted Evening at Coeur d'Alene Summer Theatre is trying to do (through Sunday, June 19).

Revues may rip tunes out of context, but they're also capable of recontextualizing songs in meaningful ways. Evening does so, enchantingly, twice. Abbey Crawford takes the gee-whiz self-indulgence of Ado Annie in "I Cain't Say No," transforming it into a girls-wear-the-pants manifesto. She slaps men's butts and grabs their neckties, turning gendered weakness into eroticized power.

Another example: In The Sound of Music, "What Are We Going To Do About Maria?" is sung by a gaggle of nonplussed nuns. Jadd Davis, however, recreates it as a solo piece for a man both surprised and pleased about the antics of his girlfriend. In both instances, the reinterpretation knows where it's headed, enhancing listeners' musical pleasure and knowledge.

Nearly half the Enchanted songs will be only vaguely familiar to all but dedicated fans of American musical theater -- but then revues do present an opportunity to hear seldom-performed songs.

And Abbey Crawford excels at interpreting them. She enacts "The Gentleman Is a Dope" from Allegro -- showing us how her character doth protest too much as she derides a man she pretends to dislike. Then Crawford stops the show with the poignancy of "Love, Look Away" from Flower Drum Song ("Wanting you so, I try too much / After you go, I cry too much") by belting out the defiance and making the despair quiet and forlorn. Crawford, a local cabaret singer who wowed listeners in Nunsense and Hair at Spokane Civic Theatre, demonstrates the same qualities in a song about loving someone for needing to be loved, "Something Wonderful" from The King and I. She sold her solos, and the audience was buying.

There are other highlights too. Krista Kubicek creates a lovely, quiet ending ("I will love being loved by you") for her solo half of the subplot duet from The King and I, "I Have Dreamed." Robby French and Callie McKinney Cabe share a romantic farewell at the end of "If I Loved You" from Carousel. Jadd Davis strides onto the staircase and conveys the romance of South Pacific's "Younger Than Springtime," even modulating the second verse for its emotional reversal.

French is convincing with prospective father Billy Bigelow's change of heart -- what if it's a girl? -- in "Soliloquy" from Carousel. As a nice contrast, French's warm tones deepen the sentiment of his half of "This Nearly Was Mine" from South Pacific, especially as he's bedecked in a cutaway.

Speaking of costumes, Judith McGiveney may have thrown fistfuls of sequins at the evening gowns in this show, but at least Michael McGiveney's elegant set -- a curving stairwell with columns, French doors, leafless trees, stars twinkling beyond sheer curtains -- nicely complements all the formal wear.

The question asked at the end of Act One -- "Shall We Dance?" -- only serves to remind viewers that director/choreographer Troy Nickerson has confined himself to a few elementary dance sequences. Working with five singer-dancers who emphasize the first half of their job description, he may not have had much choice. But when some coordinated movement does come along (two trios from South Pacific, "Nothin' Like a Dame" and "I'm Gonna Wash That Man"), the energy rises so much that it becomes clear how static the rest of this show is.

Don't get me started on the slapdash juxtaposition of moods in this pick-a-song-any-song revue. With 33 songs in the program -- seven of them medleys, others sung in snippets -- listeners get smacked by one catharsis after another. Near the top of Act Two, there's a medley that mashes together excerpts of songs about Kansas City, Bali Hai and San Francisco for no discernible reason. Those women were doing Polynesian arm waves why?

OK, so most popular songs are "out of context" -- you hear a song on the radio, it doesn't arrive with a musical comedy. So what's the crime that revues commit?

Time and again, Some Enchanted Evening deletes verses from songs if they limit the singer to a particular context: no references to the abbey in "Maria" or to Chinese-American relations in "Don't Marry Me." But swinging for the fences of universal relevance can result in the strikeout of dumbed-down leveling.

In this Evening's revue, duets are done solo, and solo songs (like "Hello, Young Lovers") are turned into duets. The title song of R & amp;H's 1945 premiere, meant to be sung by a crowd, is attenuated here. Five singers do not a rousing ensemble make, and no number of swirling spotlights will make up for the deficiency. Compared to the original, the stinger -- "Oklahoma! Yow!" -- seemed simply feeble.

The finale ultimo of this sporadically Enchanted Evening is the title song -- which loses its uniqueness and charm when, instead of witnessing Emile De Becque falling in love, we get five different people trying to convince us that each of them is experiencing something unique and deeply felt.

Which is why jerking a song unnaturally out of its native habitat isn't necessarily the best of ideas.

Publication date: 06/16/05

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Michael Bowen

Michael Bowen is a former senior writer for The Inlander and a respected local theater critic. He also covers literature, jazz and classical music, and art, among other things.