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Busy Bodies

At the Hasty Pudding Theatre through March 28

By Alfred FRIENDLY Jr.

This year's Hasty Pudding show is a mass of incongruities: the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, thinly disguised, hob-nob with a Marxist chambermaid; an Irish plumber appears in the midst of the expatriate rich on the isle of Elba; a sexy French singer takes a copy of Dr. Zhivago into the shower with her. Yet somehow all these strained touches combine to make an evening of fun.

The credit, however, does not go to the plot or to the dialogue. The first is a displaced Agatha Christie murder mystery which would have found its logical setting in an English country home on an English country week-end. Instead, the authors have chosen to borrow liberally from the journalism of Art Buchwald and Cleveland Amory and transport their characters to a combination of Biarritz and Capri. The resultant hybrid is not happy. Nor, sad to say, are the lines the participants are made to speak in their non-musical moments. The jokes, such as they are, represent the scum of dining room repartee, heavily reliant on puns about sex. The satirical moments succeed only once, when the characters rush together for a group picture.

But the book's faults are balanced, if not completely overcome, by the esprit of the players, a few good voices, a few fine songs, and a few clever lyrics. The most successful part of Busy Bodies is the cast. Every member seems to enjoy his role and manages to convey this delight to the audience. Even the actors who are supposed to sing, and can't, don't seem to be embarrassed by their inability. Those who can sing do it very well, and though there are no outstanding voices on stage, there are no really unpleasant ones either.

Terry Blanchard, as Elba's version of Elsa Maxwell, John Spooner, as Walrus, Duchess of Wopping, the Baltimore girl who made her debut in the YWCA and grew up to "rock an empire," and Amyn Khan, an Yma Sumac, whose attraction for men--all men--is fatal, are marvelous. All of them can sing, all of them can act, and all of them have excellent parts. The scene in which they get together to protest that each is really a "Lady at Heart," is a high point of the show.

Other leading players are competent, but usually only that. Pare Lorentz suffers from stereotyping. He has played the part of the clean-cut, pure-hearted hero so often in Pudding shows that it is liable to become second-nature to him, unless something is done soon. He has more lines and worse ones than most of the characters, and only one song that he has a chance with. Rupert Hitzig, playing Lorentz's romantic interest, is also hampered by too much dialogue and a weak singing voice. He tries hard with the one song he has that packs any punch, "Lost Another Man," but effort, unfortunately, is not enough.

John Casey, whose part is too complex to explain or care about, is forced--against his better judgment, I hope--to sing. He manages to save his part with some convincing buffoonery, but it is a close call.

The chorus, for the first time in my memory, is brilliantly unobtrusive. Their big number, a show stopper called "Don't Say 'No' to Lulu" is a complete success, and would be so even without the delightful gymnastics which Amyn Khan adds. Maureen Needham's choreography generally is satisfactory and sometimes, as in the "Abdication Waltz," eminently successful. The costuming, handled by Theoni Aldredge, is professional and more. The scenery, the province of Webster Lithgow, is economical and very good.

Considering the vehicle, perhaps James Paul's direction has to be exaggerated as it is. But, to my mind, there was too much competition for attention on stage too frequently. If Paul was aiming for an effect of motion, he certainly got it, but he may have prescribed an overdose.

Despite all these drawbacks, there is life and gaiety in the performance. The music is scarcely distinguished and mainly derivative, but it provides an adequate background to the performers efforts. It is these efforts which make the show worth seeing.

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