Musical Comedy!

By Philip PeLaynearce

SHE’S WON PRAISE nationally and abroad, but we locals still insist Layne Littlepage is our own home-grown phenomenon. She was spot-on hilarious in her one-woman performances as Beatrice Lillie. She effortlessly stole the show as a New Age Madame Arcati in Noel Coward’s High Spirits at MPC. The good news is she’s back with an hour of hi-jinx and vocal magic at the Carl Cherry Center.

With its classy new auditorium paint job, the Cherry is a perfect fit for Littlepage’s distinctive brand of intimate comedy and music. It’s a setting that creates an evening that’s half cabaret and half informal fun and games in your own Carmel living room.

The lady is there to remind us that, before the heavy-breathing soul-searches of Les Miz or the blood-stained melodramatics of Sweeney Todd, an all-singin’ all dancin’ Broadway show was, like Littlepage’s latest offering, something called “Musical Comedy!” And the “message,” if it has one, is Don’t Leave Off the Laughs or Forget the Exclamation Point.

In a voice that seems to grow more flexible and true with every passing year she runs the vocal gamut from the painful arpeggios of an over-ambitious soprano in “I Want to Sing in Opera” to the whiny pleas of Charles Schulz’s Lucy trying to lure Schroeder into matrimony and away from Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.

There’s an Irving Berlin number extolling the glories of 88 keys worth of piano. There’s a Cole Porter tribute to an East Coast Oyster. There’s Noel Coward’s Las Vegas lament “Why Must the Show Go On?” In a two-header with her funny and gifted accompanist Barney Hulse, Littlepage reprises that well-known Bea Lillie sketch about double damask dinner napkins.

But she doesn’t just stick to familiar favorites. Musical Comedy!, as she calls her new show, revives some wonderful material from lesser known comics like Flanders & Swann, Patricia Routledge and the sublime Joyce Grenfell. The latter puts in a memorable appearance as a lady trapped in mid-pew at a Sunday church service before she realizes she has left the gas on under Sunday lunch.

Always at the keyboard, the deft Barney offers his own solo selections, including a bit of Ivor Novello froth you might have heard briefly in Gosford Park called “And Her Mother Came Too.”

Once again, praise be, there are brief, sly guest appearances by Cliff Berry, who makes a Flanders and Swann gnu into something that looks and acts like an ingratiating cockney squirrel.

If there’s a fault it’s that it’s all finished in one brief hour, but as any self-respecting comic knows, it’s always better to leave ‘em laughing, than sneaking peeks at their Rolexes.

The music and laughter continue, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays at 2 through July 2.