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Among the many delectable songs by Richard Rodgers (music) and Lorenz Hart (lyrics) in the vintage Broadway musical The Boys From Syracuse (1938) is "Dear Old Syracuse," a lilting ditty with a no-place-like-home theme. A return visit to this joyous musical engenders similarly nostalgic sentiments. In Reprise!'s star-studded, gloriously melodic revival, George Abbott's creaky book seems completely beside the point. Despite Abbott's hackneyed blend of Roman farce, Shakespearean comedy, and American burlesque, there is nothing to prevent this royally entertaining confection from sending SRO audiences out on a euphoric cloud.

The slapstick plot-loosely based on Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors and its progenitor, Plautus' Menaechmi-is a mistaken-identity trifle about a set of identical twins (Scott Waara and Christopher Sieber) and their identical slaves (David Hyde Pierce and Jason Graae). To distract from the vapidity of the story, director Arthur Allan Seidelman wisely indulges in ribald camp (gay inferences and S & M gags about titty-twisting and butt-spanking) and wry self-parody (as when Pierce's Dromio suggests he will escape the mayhem by joining the onstage conductor to perform showtunes).

In a stellar cast, the inarguable standout is Lea DeLaria, one of the few contemporary musical comediennes poised to enter the pantheon of legends like Martha Raye and Ethel Merman, whose spirits she sometimes seems to channel. As the ball-busting wife of Graee's Dromio, she brassily belts out her songs, audaciously clowns around, and never fails to project star-caliber charisma.

In his musical theatre debut, Pierce is a passable singer, a dexterous physical comedian, and a charming presence. The ever-delightful Graae also handles the slapstick tomfoolery with panache. In the romantic male leads, Sieber's singing is especially fine, and both he and Waara are skilled comics. As their love interests, Karen Culliver and Tia Riebling make the most of the show-stopping songs (such as "Falling in Love With Love" and the heaven-sent "Sing for Your Supper"). In support, Marian Mercer is a hilariously daffy sorceress, Gus Corrado excels in multiple roles, hunky Civic Light Opera stalwart John Ganun cuts an imposing figure and sings divinely as the Police Sergeant, and Ruth Gottschall struts her stuff to great effect in the smashing "Oh, Diogenes.

For two blissful hours, the R&H hits just keep coming under Peter Matz's boffo musical direction, and Travis Payne's choreography is an impressive mixture of camp and class. Gary Wissmann's deliberately askew proscenium set is simpler than in past Reprise! offerings, but ample visual splendors derive from David R. Zyla's glitzy costumes and Tom Ruzika's crisp lighting. It might be a clich , but with musicals this satisfying, there's no better way to say it: They simply don't make them like they used to.

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Posted 9/29/99