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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
My Old Friends
Filled with bright, melodious songs, clever lyrics, and sprightly but decorous dances, My Old Friends follows the sedate adventures, the subtle ups and downs, and the often tedious daily existence of eight senior citizens in this "retirement hotel for those that are well." In the opening number, "I’m Not Old", the characters introduce themselves: the Jewish soap opera maven, Mrs. Polianoffsky (Annie Abbott); the jokester and self-styled Master of Ceremonies, Mickey Catlan (Marc Elliot); the cautious romantic, Sidney Fineberg (Dominick Morra); the peripatetic tie salesman, Wally Slocum (Malachi Throne); the dancing Latino, Arias (Ruben Rabasa); the militant activist, Mrs. Cooper (Pat Hodges); and the vivacious lady with a secret sorrow, Heloise Michaud (Betsy Randle).
Into this diverse group comes a handsome widower, Peter Schermann (Tom Ormeny), to shake up the rigid bureaucracy of Mrs. Stone (the offstage voice of Bobbi Stamm), who runs the hotel much as Nurse Ratched (from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) might. Quickly smitten with Heloise, Peter and she perform a tentative, chaste, song and dance, "What We Need Around Here (is a little music. . .)" A few minutes later, prodded into action by the new mood in the hotel, the cautious Fineberg leads the residents in an exuberant show-stopper, "I Bought a Bicycle."
In another show-stopping number, the Mrs. Polianoffsky and Cooper deride their age with "Before My Time." And Cooper (Pat Hodges), known internationally as a top recording artist, belts out the life-affirming solo "lA Little Starch Left." But it isn’t all song and dance. There is some consideration of the meaningful life, the value of work and accomplishment, illness and death. (As Catlan remarks ruefully, "Sometimes I think I should have followed my doctor’s advice and died.") And even though the dreadful Mrs. Stone is replaced by the innovative Mr. Gettlinger (Herb Hall), who fills the hotel with activities, classes, and projects, the residents are, according to Peter, "just keeping busy, not really living.”"
In the end, My Old Friends is light fare, but a delightful journey nevertheless. Expertly directed by Victory Theatre Center’s Artistic Director, Maria Gobetti, and musical director Scott Harlan, the company does justice to the book, lyrics and music of Mel Mandel and Norman Sachs. Cate Caplin has provided sweet and felicitous choreography, and Peter Wooley’s set design conveys the conventional, well-worn look of a retirement environment. Lighting by Carol Doehring and costumes by Lauren Tyler are most appropriate, especially in the Christmas party scene. And pianists Serge Bueso and Tom Griep provide such rambunctious accompaniment that a full orchestra would be superfluous.