Smile, Damn It

La Miradas Swingtime Canteen

In World War II-torn London, actress Marian Ames (Rende Rae Norman) hopes the "all-girl band" USO tour she's on will resurrect her skidding career, while four other women (Amy Elizabeth Jones, Tami Tappan Damiano, Natalie Nucci and Roberta Wall) hope it will jump-start theirs.

The five end up belting their way through 30-plus of the best and most memorable songs of the 1940s, with drag queen co-writer Charles Busch's devotion to Hollywood divas and his cutting, offhanded one-liners plastered all over the thing.

The material loses its sense of humor, however, during the closing number. As the actresses sing "God Bless America," the background music stops, the previously joyful mood turns serious, smiles leave the actress's faces, and the production limps along to its ending.

This is the second time Swingtime has been produced locally since the New York City terrorist attack, and both productions have made the same grotesquely inappropriate directing choice. By burdening this light-as-air piece with a Sept. 11 subtext, director Alyson Reed not only makes it work against the parodic intent of the playwrights and yank us out of the recreation of a more innocent past, but she also takes real grief and tragedy and turns it into maudlin kitsch.

Swingtime Canteen at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada, (714) 994-6310. Opens Fri. Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 & 7:30 p.m. Through Feb. 17. $35.

 
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