The Off-the-Circle Theater Company is still a long way from running out of likable composers to celebrate in its "American Composers" series, but it does seem to be having troubles rounding up competent male performers to help with the celebration.
The company's latest show at d.c. space, "Jule Styne, Just in Time," rifles through the honored output of the man who wrote "Hallelujah, Baby!," "Funny Girl," "Bells Are Ringing" and what may be his surest claim on greatness, "Gypsy." While you'll have few problems with Kathleen Goldpaugh and Marianne Glass, pleasant performers both, and none whatsoever with Debra Tidwell, who remains the company's powerhouse, the males in the five-member cast are distinctly out of place and outclassed.
Tidwell gets all the big songs ("Some People," "Everything's Coming Up Roses," the hallucinating "Rose's Turn," the jazzy "Cornet Man" and the rousing "Don't Rain on My Parade"). She invariably takes each of them to an emotional peak, and she is in perfect control of her material during the ascent.
The mere size of Tidwell's voice is impressive, but so is her intelligent way with a lyric. It's not her fault that director John Moran clearly expects her to score a home run every time. (She nearly does, by the way.) Still, if Tidwell doesn't require a rest now and then, she does merit a change of pace and she's not getting it.
Glass tends to handle the sweeter, quieter numbers ("The Party's Over," "Fade Out, Fade In") and to Goldpaugh, who has a touch of Elaine Stritch about her, fall the comic assignments ("You Mustn't Be Discouraged," "Who Taught Her Everything"). The compartmentalization may be based on an honest appraisal of the performers' individual strengths, but it nonetheless lends an air of predictability to the show that was lacking in its predecessors.
The real drawback this time, however, is the male contingent--Christopher Walsh, whose boyish appeal is nearly effaced by a nervous smile that rarely leaves his face, and Thomas Dudley, whose tendency to lumber conceals no specific assets I could discern. Even standing in the background, they're sore thumbs.
Styne writes show tunes with considerable razzle, and when Stephen Sondheim is supplying the lyrics (as he did for "Gypsy"), the combination is unbeatable. Add Tidwell to the mix and you have what is best in "Just in Time."
JULE STYNE, JUST IN TIME. Music by Jule Styne. Musical direction, Donna Lyn Roman. With Thomas Dudley, Marianne Glass, Kathleen Goldpaugh, Debra Tidwell, Christopher Walsh. At d.c. space through April 2.