THE MOVIES didn't kill vaudeville a moment too soon, judging from D.C. Space's "Vaudevillian: A Melodrama with Music."
The classic sketches presented in part one of the saga -- there will be three parts in all -- are just not very entertaining. Authors Charles Berigan and Charles Newell deserve credit for their research and for weaving the scenes around a mildly engaging plot. But most of the old skits and songs should be sent back to their dusty hideaways.
The characters are stereotypes: a couple of old pros, an egocentric prima donna, a pair of stagestruck kids and even a drug addict. Likewise, the dialogue is pretty familiar: "Save your bright-eyed, bushy-tailed bravado for the footlights"; "She's got him running around like she's Sarah Bernhardt!"; "Hit me with a cup of java -- no chaser."
Director Charles Newell has dealt with these oft-seen characters and their hackneyed language by adopting a breakneck pace. His actors speed through their speeches and bits of business as if Newell distrusted the content of his own creation. Trite material can be entertaining (see "42nd Street" for pointers), but Newell and his crew do not seem to have the soft touch to pull it off.
The young performers in "Vaudevillian" are very energetic and manage to hold attention by virtue of their energy. Several of them, however, are distractingly younger than the characters they portray. Not surprisingly, it's the younger characters, portrayed by Richard Baptist and Paul Batsel, who come off best. Unhampered by penciled-in crow's feet and blessed with nice voices, the two young men provide the occasional high points to this fitful show.
VAUDEVILLIAN: A MELODRAMA WITH MUSIC -- Thursdays through Saturdays at D.C. Space (Seventh and E streets NW). Part One, through May 4; Part Two, May 9 through the 18; Part Three, May 23 through June 8.