If you're thinking of mounting your own original musical comedy review in the near future, here are a few dont's that have just come to me:
Don't put your actors on roller skates unless they happen to know how to skate;
Try not to dress them up as detergent containers;
Avoid rewriting lyrics by Cole Porter;
Find microphones that perform at your discretion rather than theirs.
Or go see "Bagtime" at the Gateway Theater and write your own list.
This is one of those calamities for which it would be senseless to apportion blame. The program, for instance, credits the sound to a Greg Robinson, but how could one man really be responsible for such an array of mishaps? (And we're not just talking about routine stuff like feedback and static, mind you, we're talking innovations in the field, like offstage voices filtering in through the speakers when the singer onstage is completely inaudible.)
Many of the voices distorted by the sound system during last night's benefit show for the D.C. Society for Crippled Children were very pleasant voices indeed. And the performers, to their infinite credit, betrayed no hint onstage of wha must have been their considerable distress over circumstances far beyond their control.
But enough of "Bagtime" was visible and audible to suggest that we were not robbed of a notable experience in musical theater by technical problems only.
"Bagtime's" songs -- including some bona fide chestnuts by the likes of Richard Rogers, Irving Berlin and the Rolling Stones -- are for the most part delivered unmemorably in abrupt fragments that manage somehow to relate to little mime skits about cereal commercials, spacemen or Canadian Mounties.
The Gateway Theater is located under the same roof with the Wax Museum at 4the and I streets SW -- a routine stop on many Washington bus tours. It would be unfortunate if visitors to this city acquired the idea that "Bagtime" is our idea of entertainment. Fortunately, the city's image is far better served by "Tintypes," a crisp, thoroughly professional, spirit-raising review at the Arena Stage's Old Vat Room, just a few blocks away.
"Bagtime," a musical review conceived, directed and choreographed by Stephen W. Baumann; original music by Jeffory Robinson; original lyrics by Terri Klausner and Jeffory Robinson. Produced by Stephen W. Baumann and Vincent J. m/cGugan.
With Sally Benoit, Mark Brink, Katharine Buffaloe, Patti Farmer, Rudy Hogenmiller, Kitty Laub, Suzanne Lukather, Jeffory Robinson, Tom Schumacher and Robert A. Warner.