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Thursday, September 23 9:46 PM ET

David Hyde Pierce in triumphant "Boys"

The Boys From Syracuse (Musical; UCLA's Freud Playhouse; 568 seats; $50 top; 2:15)

By David Mermelstein

HOLLYWOOD (Variety) - Reprise! production of Rodgers & Hart's "The Boys From Syracuse," starring David Hyde Pierce, is a triumph.

Reprise! has had a checkered three-year history, but at its best, this semi-staged concert series tastefully revives some wonderful musicals. And this production is best of breed, with an exceptionally talented cast put through the paces by an astute and imaginative director.

Rodgers & Hart's 1938 show, here slightly retooled by playwright David Ives, is one of the glories of the American musical theater: witty, irreverent and sweet. The tuner is, after all, home to such classics as "Falling in Love With Love," "This Can't Be Love," "You Have Cast Your Shadow on the Sea" and "Sing for Your Supper," among several other outstanding songs.

Based on Shakespeare's "The Comedy of Errors," the show tells of two sets of twins accidentally reunited after years of separation. Antipholus (Scott Waara) and his servant Dromio (Jason Graae) have lived in Ephesus for years. Their Syracuse-based siblings, who share the same names, are merely passing through.

But residents of Ephesus can't tell the visiting Antipholus (Christopher Sieber) and Dromio (Pierce) from their resident siblings. The confusion is grist for this comic mill, made even funnier, of course, because the "twins" don't really look alike.

But the comedy serves Hart and Rodgers' words and music, not the other way around. Director Arthur Allan Seidelman (who winningly helmed "Of Thee I Sing" for Reprise! last November) understands this and has paired talent with panache in equal measure.

Still, without the right players, Seidelman's staging would be stylish but insubstantial, and this is Reprise's best cast show since its inaugural production, "Promises, Promises." At its center are the twin Dromios, played by the droll Hyde Pierce and the flinty Graae. Graae is the better singer and a more aggressive actor, but the subtler Pierce possesses fetching puppy-dog charm.

As the wife of one of the Dromios, standup-turned-Broadway darling Lea DeLaria looks and acts like a Tasmanian Devil, powerfully built and fierce. Her singing matches her persona, evoking memories of Ethel Merman at her brassiest.

While the rest of the cast are less memorable, they make favorable impressions. Karen Culliver's Adriana, Tia Riebling's Luciana and Ruth Gottschall's Courtesan trill as prettily as they look, which is very nice indeed. The handsome Waara and Seiber handle their parts well, as do John Ganun's police sergeant, Charlie Dell's Aegeon, Marian Mercer's sorceress and Gus Corrado's tailor and goldsmith. The chorus boys and girls, including several UCLA students, sing and dance with evident, and infectious, enthusiasm.

Gary Wissmann's production design is your basic scaled-down ancient Greek pillars and pediments, but David R. Zyla's costumes blend tunic wear with high fashion in a sly, eye-catching manner. And Travis Payne's delightfully loopy choreography, full of homages to styles past, lends glitzy energy to the proceedings.

In a show of many highlights, "Sing for Your Supper," with DeLaria complementing Culliver and Riebling, emerges as a dream number, as does "He and She," with DeLaria and Hyde Pierce in endearing comic form.

In fact, there isn't a single song that falls flat. Part of the credit goes to music director Peter Matz and his 14-piece band.

With Christa Jackson, Tera Bonilla, Shannon Pritchard, Sierra A.R. Rein, Bart Doerfler, Tyson Sheedy, Daria Somers, Fred Voss.

A Reprise! presentation of a musical in two acts, with music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Lorenz Hart and book by George Abbott. Concert adaptation by David Ives. Produced by Marcia Seligson. Directed by Arthur Allan Seidelman. Choreographed by Travis Payne. Musical direction by Peter Matz. Sets, Gary Wissmann; costumes, David R. Zyla; lighting, Tom Ruzika; sound, Philip G. Allen; stage manager, Ronn Goswick. Opened and reviewed Sept. 22, 1999. Closes Oct. 3.

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Copyright © 1999 Reuters/Variety.
Posted 10/2/99