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Wait A Minim

at the Colonial through May 25

By Frank Rich

IF THERE is anything good about South Africa Wait a Minim is it.

This "musical entertainment" came to life in that country in 1962 and has wandered around Europe and the United States ever since, presumably to keep from going home. Now the eight performers and 32 musical instruments that comprise Wait a Minim have settled down at the Colonial for a short spell. The lengthy tour has not affected the show's vitality a bit.

Like most revues that have pleased Broadway recently, Wait a Minim is not American and not strictly a revue. Ten years ago. La Plume de ma Tante, a French non-revue with a Hellzapoppin heart, zipped through its evenings on a series of musical numbers that somehow fell apart before they ever could get started. Coming a little later, England's Beyond the Fringe had little music and a lot of satire. Wait a Minim, standing somewhere between its predecessors, has its own hybrid identity. While the collapsing songs of Plume abound, so do jeering sketches, and, in a throwback to the original form of the revue, straight musical numbers.

But a one-sentence catalogue of its contents does not do Wait a Minim justice. What makes its 21/2 hour running-time seem one-tenth as long as the uninhibited zaniness that keeps the performers flying through their material. They do everything and anything. In one sketch, medieval knights running around in cloaks bearing the peace symbol suddenly break into a ludicrous song about a chastity belt. Ten minutes later a thumping South African chant turns into a wild dance accompanied by a myriad of homemade instruments. When they aren't singing, the company takes turns playing whites and blacks shooting each other. (The politics of Wait a Minim are strongly anti-apartheid, by the way.) Absurdity runs rings around absurdity; only the songs keep chaos from taking over.

ANDREW and Paul Tracey, the brothers who started the whole thing as a last-minute fill-in for a vacant slot at a Johannesburg theatre, play the show as if they had never seen it before. Equally enthusiastic is Kendrew Lascelles, the chief comic, who also devised some of the choreography. Mr. Lascelles, periodically strolling on stage wearing a floor-length black coat and carrying a tuba that he cannot play, looks like a banana waiting to be peeled. He also has a way of bunching up his entire torso into his breast, a trick he's likely to pull anytime, anywhere, and for no rational reason.

Whenever they can, the singers of Wait a Minim sneak on stage to express their musical thoughts about love or hate or anything else that happens to strike their fancy. Michel Martel clowns around, but also finds time to display a voice that can find its place in any octave. Helen Ireland, throaty and soothing, and Nigel Pegram, quiet and cynical, handle the familiar folk songs with an unfamiliar sense of style.

Then there is April Olrich, who dances and, when she has nothing else to do, just stands facing the audience flashing a pair of large, sparkling eyes. The eyes are part of a body which also seems to throw off a few sparks from time to time. Whatever she is doing, Miss Olrich always manages to look very nice. Taking her into consideration, you might want to sit downstairs and up close for Wait a Minim.

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