Ms. Musical

It's a '70s thing.


Liberty Deli, 2722 Alki S.W., 935-8420, $29 dinner and show, $15 show only (on a space available basis ) 7:30 p.m. Thurs. (no dinner served); 6:30 p.m. dinner, 7:30 p.m. show Fri.-Sat. ends Sat., Aug. 3

I don't know how timely or compelling a show can really be when you feel comfortable enough to polish off two helpings of yams. Dinner theater is a tricky business: I don't think "timely" when I think of a yams-and-show combo; I think "and for dessert . . . ?"

But Liberty Deli's Steeplechase Productions is undaunted by the quite rewarding roast beef at the buffet table and is convinced that I'm Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road, Gretchen Cryer's iconic feminist musical from 1978, is still even meatier stuff. The show's program provides an articulate history of the play's creation and era (dramaturge Tonia Steed hopes it will "get tongues wagging again"), and lead actor Sabrina Prielaida gets a page for some "artistic musings" about the realization of her dream role.

Not that mounting the show is a completely ridiculous idea, because, yes, a lot of Cryer's concerns are sadly relevant. Her show plops you down in a rehearsal for the forthright new nightclub act of former soap opera star and soft popster Heather Jones (Prielaida), now approaching 40 and tired of living up to the ridiculous expectations of docile conformity that society has for women (and, as Cryer sympathetically notes, men, too). Let's face it, whenever it's suggested that men might try a little tenderness, you can still count on someone to come out with the requisite Alan Alda jab.

In any case, however, Cryer's diligent show (with music by Nancy Ford) feels a little sticky and pedantic now, an anthemic adult version of 1972's liberating children's album classic Free to Be . . . You and Me; Marlo Thomas is smiling somewhere in here. The sketches that Heather uses to introduce her contemplative songs—bits in which she and her backup singers (sunny Jennifer Chadwick and Valerie Vestal) stage childhood memories and mock weddings—are akin to watching someone's sugary therapy session (it doesn't help that Prielaida gets a little cutesy enacting them). Her manager, Joe (Scott Nath, doing nice work in a limited role) watches the rehearsal, wincing at the personal nature of it and complaining that "People don't do sketches in a nightclub act." Joe is an awful chauvinist, but, dammit, he's right: The sketches are blech.

Then there are the songs themselves. Every tune is appealing and catchy and has a little bit of fire for what is essentially an A Chorus Line-ish confessional score; it's filled with breezy but thoughtful '70s contemplation like "you think you're goin' crazy/and you're scared of gettin' free." But they're also surrounded by benign digs at then-contemporary women performers Olivia Newton-John and Linda Ronstadt, as if Cryer's musings were going to knock you on your ass and make you deny the furtive, drippy pleasures of "I Honestly Love You." Yet, for the most part, Nancy Ford's plaintively urgent music contains not a note more threatening than Newton-John in her most reflective moment, and nothing here sounds half as angry as Linda Ronstadt did tearing into a unrepentant lover with "You're No Good" (Prielaida, again, though blessed with a honeyed vocal instrument, has no grit).

Director Heather Louise Parker, who should have helped her lead a little more, stages all this in a laid-back manner that works for the milieu but not for the text. The band is just hangin', saying "man" and "right on" and behaving in a way that suggests there's a camaraderie to putting together a show; it's slightly forced, but everyone seems to mean it. None of the musicians can really act, but then, you don't expect them to, and their few lines are all delivered in an amiable way. Yet Parker doesn't dig enough into Cryer's sometimes compellingly frustrated heart: a surprise romantic move by guitarist Jake (David Lavin) is limp, and Heather's hopes for the sexist Joe come out of nowhere because Parker hasn't given them any foundation. It's a pleasant evening without any of the triumphant bite.

Dessert, by the way, was a lovely cheesecake.

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