- The Washington Times - Friday, December 15, 2006

Are you wistful for a little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants? CenterStage brings out your inner vaudevillian with a pun-intended, bawdy and completely nutty production of “The Boys From Syracuse,” the 1938 Rodgers and Hart musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Comedy of Errors,” featuring an unapologetically burlesque book by George Abbott.

Baltimore’s famed “Block” may be several blocks south of CenterStage, but “The Boys From Syracuse’s” scantily clad showgirls, baggy-pants comedians, novelty acts and pit band could have been on the bill at the tenderloin district’s most famous nightclub, the Gayety, in its prime in the 1940s. Like Baltimore’s most famous stripper, Blaze Starr, the musical is warm, hearty and a little bit naughty — while leaving some things to the imagination.

The show also headlines some of Rodgers and Hart’s most delectable compositions, from the jaded cheek of “What Can You Do With a Man,” “Ev’ry Thing I’ve Got” and “Sing for Your Supper” to the straightforwardly romantic fluff of “This Can’t Be Love,” “The Shortest Day of the Year” and “Falling in Love With Love.” Although director David Schweizer harks back to the days of fan dancers, spit takes and operatic songbirds, he also updates the musical for today’s melting-pot society with colorblind casting that nonchalantly serves up the occasional joke pretext.

CenterStage’s production has a chockablock willy-nilliness to it, as if many of the acting and design choices came from the “let’s throw it up there and see if it sticks” school of comedy. This extends to Dan Knechtges’ wacky choreography, which embraces everything from conga lines and Cotton Club jazz steps to wicked parodies of Martha Graham and Agnes de Mille.

The crazy plot involves Antipholus (Paolo Montalban) and his servant Dromio (Kevin R. Free) of Ephesus and their doubles, Antipholus (Manu Narayan) and Dromio (Michael Winther) of Syracuse, who are in the town of Ephesus to search for their long-lost twins. Much mayhem ensues when Antipholus’ wife, Adriana (Charlotte Cohn) and her cook, Luce (Charlie Parker) mistake the Syracuse master and slave for their spouses and even the seen-it-all Madame Courtesan (Blair Ross) is duped into believing the strangers are her regular brothel customers.

It takes a village — a duke (Chris Wells), an oracle (Terry Lavell) and a missing father (John Ramsey) — to unsnarl the bloodlines and reunite the twins. The actors playing Antipholus are Filipino American and Indian American, while the two Dromios are black and white. Rather than striking a discordant note, it is wildly comical when the Dromios, for instance, come face to face and say, “It’s like looking into a mirror.”

The actors in the tremendously talented multicultural cast throw themselves into their roles with such zeal you would think they were auditioning for the Great Ziegfeld. Mr. Montalban plays the preening, magazine-cover-worthy edition of Antipholus with the right amount of self-deprecation, whereas Mr. Narayan gives his Antipholus the low-key appeal of a man who is not entirely aware of his attractiveness. Mr. Free’s Dromio is swaggering and charmingly cocksure, while Mr. Winther’s version radiates the relaxed congeniality of someone happy to be the second banana.

The men routinely are upstaged by the powerhouse women, notably Miss Cohn as the sweetly frustrated Adriana, Rona Figueroa as her lovelorn sister (whose duet with Mr. Narayan, “This Can’t Be Love,” is a light and goofily romantic highlight), Miss Parker as the bountiful battle-ax Luce, and a sultry Miss Ross as Madame Courtesan.

Don’t overthink “The Boys From Syracuse.” Just put on your pasties and go.

***1/2

WHAT: “The Boys From Syracuse.” Music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Lorenz Hart, book by George Abbott

WHERE: CenterStage, 700 N. Calvert St., Baltimore

WHEN: 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Sundays. Through Jan. 14.

TICKETS: $10 to $65

PHONE: 410/332-0033

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