KEEPING SCORE

But aside from a few false moments like that one, the show crackles. Director Haynes picks up the pace halfway through the first act, and all the song and dance numbers are thrilling. "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" is witty and wild, and Linda Spruell's rendition of Billie Holiday's "Willow Weep for Me" wrings the heart. Shana Chambers's rich voice does Bessie proud, and Dwayne Carrington's "Sheriff of Hell" is funny and fabulous.

If House of Blues is a history of black women's "self-assertion," the production of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, at the Space Theatre, offers an outlet for self-assertion of another order. The Physically Handicapped Amateur Musical Actors League (PHAMALy) defies all the stereotypes about the disabled in a rousing, brightly choreographed (by Debbie Stark) satire of the business world. Don Bill's sparkling direction moves the differently abled actors through challenging antics, keeping the comic timing snappy and the repartee rolling.

Some of the actor's handicaps are more obvious than others--but wheelchairs can spin and maneuver with incredible precision. A couple of the actors are legally blind, but it never affects how they take the stage or dance up a storm. And very soon, the viewer stops wondering what this cast can't do, instead marveling at what they do. It's all tremendous fun, with a bonus: The show's entire original meaning undergoes a transformation as mild satire deepens into a metaphor about overcoming the odds.

Troy Willis plays J. Pierrepont Finch, the guy who rises from the mail room to become the chairman of the board. He even resembles the star of the 1967 film, Robert Morse, undergirding the character's opportunism with the same boyish ingenuousness. Tara Cowan plays Rosemary, the secretary who loves and protects Finch and plots sweetly to wed him from the moment she lays eyes on him. Mark Dissette as the lecherous company president wheedles and cajoles the luscious Hedy La Rue (played with adorable Barbie-doll goofiness by Lucy Roucis) with the same energetic bluster with which he commands the firm. Chris Vollmar as the insidious geek, Bud Frump, is so witty, gangly and spiteful that you've got to love him.

Musicals with a conscience--what a concept. From the dubious glamour of Spider Woman to the poorly written but delightfully realized House of Blues to the exhilarating wonder of PHAMALy's Business, the progression is clear: Pay your money and take your choice.

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