The Taffetas are four singing sisters from Muncie, Indiana, beginning to experience their small level of fame: bus journeys to nearby towns, store openings, an award for "This Year's Best Copy of a Copy" of a song. When we meet them, they're in the New York studio of a show called Spotlight on Music, wearing white gloves and full skirts, and about to share with us their versions of several '50s favorites. Flashing lights circle above them; an applause sign blinks on and off. They're flirty and cute and thrilled to be here.
For a while, it's enough. They sing number after number: "Sh-Boom"; "Mr. Sandman" (making swinging bells of their skirts); "I'm Sorry"; and the Johnny Ray hit "Cry." There's a travel medley -- "Istanbul," "C'est Si Bon," "Arrivederci, Roma" -- and then a tribute to the U.S.A. that includes "Allegheny Moon" and "Old Cape Cod." A lot of the songs are pure bubblegum; a couple represent the '50s fad for novelty songs (we get "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window," though we're spared "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus"). Sometimes the sisters sing something that brings back memories or reminds us of genuinely lovely melodies; occasionally they introduce an interesting, almost-forgotten number like "Ricochet" or "Ah-choo." They're hoppy and boppy for "Put Another Nickel In," and they accomplish some very pretty harmonizing on "Sincerely."
But that's about it. The Taffetas is a one-joke evening. There are references to angora sweaters, the Korean War and Sputnik, but no revelations about the time period. Rock and roll may have been about to engulf pop music, black artists may have begun claiming their rightful place -- but you wouldn't know it from this show. The jokes are good-humored and gentle, but whether you find them funny depends on how much the word "Muncie" amuses you.
This is not the most promising material in the world, but I think director Bev Newcomb-Madden and choreographer Michael Gorman could have done more with it. Although the four singer-actresses should harmonize as one, it wouldn't be hard to present them as distinct individuals between numbers, and it would have made for a more interesting evening. And even in a format as stylized as this, there's no reason their naive aspirations shouldn't be presented as a little touching, as well as ridiculous. As it is, Laurie Gabriel, Kristin Hathaway, Margie Lamb and Michelle Paul all smile, simper and gush in much the same way. They have good voices, but their tone and attack are also very similar, and when it comes to dancing, their moves are obvious and minimal. The musical arrangements are courtesy of Rick Lewis, who originally conceived of this production, and they, too, are lacking in artistry and imagination. Only Kristin Hathaway, bunches of hair jutting from each side of her smooth, oval, slightly Molly Ringwald-ish face, distinguishes herself; there's something about the beatific satisfaction she radiates when she manages to hit a high note, pull off a little stunt (usually wrong), or ring a bell at the required moment.
The Taffetas is faintly reminiscent of the nightclub medleys Nora Dunn used to sing with Jan Hooks on Saturday Night Live: You were always pleasantly surprised by their voices, amused at their mannerisms, torn between pleasure and derision at hearing the oh-so-familiar old songs again, and glad the medley's length was kept to five or ten minutes.
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