All You Can Bleat

For the first few sets, it's tempting to feel sorry for the four singers in Broadway Brunch, a musical review of Broadway hits playing at the Westin Hotel on Sunday mornings. But the sympathy pangs soon subside; these performers are having too much fun rising to the occasion in what may be the prototypical tough gig. You've heard of dinner theater? Call this breakfast theater--and try not to chew too loudly during the big finish.

The tone in a production where the players are singing over clanking silverware and talky patrons has to be good-humored, or the whole thing will quickly come apart. And the humor inherent in so many of these songs (some sung in character, some sung straight) helps matters intensely. The result is a good mix of salty and sweet--and the lyrical piano accompaniment by Don Wagner is like butter. When the singers open with "Applause," from the show of the same name, it seems like a tongue-in-cheek comment on the driving need to perform--even if it's over eggs Benedict and Tahitian shrimp.

Director Mark Alan Ford divides the tunes up into loose categories--nostalgia, romance, revelation, battle of the sexes, showstoppers, Broadway lite and happily-ever-after. Unlike dinner theater, where patrons eat before the show and dessert must be crammed in between Act One and Act Two, this group breaks for a few minutes between sets to give customers time to revisit the groaning buffet boards yet another time.

The performers are dressed up--tuxes for the men, recital-style dresses for the women. Aside from a cane and a straw hat and one silly-looking plaid coat, there are no costume changes as the troupe moves from one course to the next.

Reece Livingstone has the kind of masterful presence that demands attention and gets it. So when he sings about "Trouble" in River City (from The Music Man), the noise dies down a bit as Livingstone revs up. When he performs "Do You Love Me?" from Fiddler on the Roof, with Jan Giese, he manages to insinuate a fine masculine tenderness perfectly suited to the song. He does best with these mildly comic songs--though his "Hymn to Him," from My Fair Lady, (in which the crusty Professor Higgins asks the eternal question: "Why can't a woman be more like a man?") is quizzical and funny.

Kathryn Jan Coons, a lovely, highly trained soprano, sings the dreamier romantic tunes like "We Kiss in the Shadows" (The King and I) and "So in Love" (Kiss Me, Kate) with wistful grace. She's less at home with the brasher comic stuff like "I Hate Men" (Kiss Me, Kate) and "Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better)."

Luckily, brash comedy is where Giese really shines. Her gutsy, jazzy "When You're Good to Mama" is a high point; she's another performer so completely comfortable on stage that she grabs the eye and quiets the room--at least momentarily. She and Livingstone are particularly affecting in "Do You Love Me?" because each stays focused on the characters they've managed to develop inside a few minutes. They believe it, so we do, too.

Director Ford rounds out this elegant quartet with a fine musical-comedy voice. Though "Old Man River" might not be his best choice, "Memory," from Cats, is definitely a warm spot in the morning. He has done a fine job choosing the repertoire, which changes every week, and also of blending talents to make some scrumptious sounds. In fact, the best stuff here is the full-company material: "Do You Hear the People Sing?" (from Les Miserables), "Sunrise/Sunset" (Fiddler) and "Fugue for Tinhorns" (Guys and Dolls). Grits aren't on the menu at the tony Westin--but four-part hominy doesn't get any better.


Broadway Brunch, through the month of August at the Westin Tabor Hotel, 1672 Lawrence Street, 572-7222.

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