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New York Openings Offer Lampoon Wit

THEATER: REVIEWS

By John BeaufortSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / August 29, 1989



NEW YORK

PRIVATES ON PARADE Musical comedy with book and lyrics by Peter Nichols, music by Denis King. Directed by Larry Carpenter. Starring Jim Dale and Simon Jones. At the Roundabout Theatre through Sept. 24. BUZZSAW BERKELEY Musical travesty by Doug Wright, with music and lyrics by Michael John LaChiusa. Conceived by Christopher Ashley and Mr. Wright. Directed by Mr. Ashley. At the WPA Theatre.

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FEMALE impersonation, raunchy soldier jokes, terrible puns, and uproarious caricature supply the main ingredients of ``Privates on Parade,'' at the Roundabout. British playwright-lyricist Peter Nichols and composer Denis King have collaborated on an extravaganza whose flaunted outrageousness coincides with its mordant view of imperialist ways. The chief target is the late arriving Maj. Giles Flack, hilariously burlesqued by Simon Jones as a Colonel Blimp in the making.

``Privates on Parade'' centers on the raggle-taggle cast of an army entertainment unit putting on a revue called ``Jungle Jamboree.'' Heading the troupe is Acting Captain Terri Dennis (Jim Dale), a flamboyant homosexual whose impersonations range from Marlene Dietrich and Carmen Miranda to Noel Coward. Whether as onstage artiste or offstage busybody, a flaxen-haired Mr. Dale keeps the role's preposterous excesses within the bounds of credibility.

When not engaged in solo turns and song-and-dance ensembles, ``Privates on Parade'' occupies itself with the stuff of wartime drama: letters to and from home, a nasty spot of collusion with the enemy, an ill-fated interracial affair, and an even more ill-fated jungle initiative. In addition to the two stars, the cast - including Jim Fyfe, Donna Murphy, John Curry, Edward Hibbert, and Donald Burton - abounds in showmanly esprit de corps.

The elaborate production was designed by Loren Sherman (impromptu sets), Lindsay W. Davis (costumes), and Marcia Madeira (lighting). Pianist Philip Campanella and his musicians accompany the unmilitary shenanigans.

THE people who gave us the musical hit ``Little Shop of Horrors'' and launched ``The Silly Series'' with the recently reopened ``The Lady in Question'' have struck again. ``Buzzsaw Berkeley,'' which the WPA Theatre is classifying as ``The Silly Series II,'' mixes 1930s movie musicals with 1980s horror flicks in a juvenile lampoon, the results of which are more mixed than the creators may have intended.

Death stalks Grave Hollow, USA, in 1939. Music has been doomed by a maniacal mutant on the loose. Anyone who sings a note, whistles a tune, or otherwise celebrates the muse doesn't get to do an encore. Are Judy Gorgon (Shauna Hicks) and Mickey Looney (Keith Reddin) intimidated? Not they. Judy and Mickey will ``put on a show'' in a convenient barn loaned by Old Miss Soames (Ethyl Eichelberger), a onetime glamor girl who soon pays the price for her rash gesture.

The killer lurks in the darkness. One by one, the cast of the show-within-the-show makes a final exit.

``Buzzsaw Berkeley'' climaxes in a decisive chainsaw duel; glorifies the red, white, and blue; and makes America safe for music once more. If the resultant burlesque is more ludicrous than hilarious, more frantic than comic, it cannot be faulted for want of slap-happy sappiness.