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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Bingo is a Warmhearted Winning Musical

Also see Richard's reviews of Chemical Imbalance, After the War and Private Lives

The lovely, winning musical Bingo, with music and lyrics by Michael Heitzman, Ilene Reid and David Holcenberg, is being presented by the Center REP in their intimate 300-seat theatre in the Dean Lesher Performing Arts Center in Walnut Creek through April 21st. The book by Michael Heitzman and Ilene Reid is full of clever double entendre zingers. The 90-minute musical is packed with catchy and capricious songs about three 40s-plus girlfriends on a big night out, looking for a little love, a lot of luck and a lost friendship.

Bingo premiered at the Theatre at St. Luke's in New York during the winter of 2005, appropriately enough in the basement of a church. The producers, composer and lyricists have enlarged the production for a more theatre-oriented audience. This is a pleasant piece that should appeal to bingo players and non-players alike. (The game has been a popular pastime in America since the days of the Great Depression. It has help many Catholic Church's coffers throughout the years.)

Bingo follows a trio of women on a dark and tempestuous night at their favorite "bingo" in fictional Hammerin County. There is empty-headed Patty (Tami Dahbura), who is an over-the-top player relying on her lucky charms and a case full of rabbits' feet. Her fellow bingo players are ditzy Honey (Maureen McVerry), who has had many husbands and lovers and is probably the town nymphomaniac, and the leader Vern (Ginger Riley), a caustic lioness of a woman who guards cards like they are precious diamonds. The loveable and lively Minnie (Linda Paplow) is the owner of the bingo hall, and a mysterious young woman named Alison (Ariela Morgenstern) wanders into the hall on this dark and turbulent night. A character named Bernice (Cynthia Myers), who used to a member of the "bingo chicks," appears in flashback sequences. The lone male in this little opus is the bingo caller, hunky Sam (John Patrick Moore), who has had a checkered past, including recent jail time. Put all of this together and you have a nice little soap opera with mostly '50s type bouncy music that should appeal to the older theatregoing folks.

Minnie gives a little lecture at the beginning of the musical about the inventors of modern bingo (toy salesman's Edwin S.Lowe and Columbia University math professor Carl Leffler adapted and expanded a carnival game known as "beano" by creating standardized bingo cards). What follow is the lives of the bingo chicks.

The score contains beguiling songs such as "Gentleman Caller," a little love ballet. Most is a mixed bag of '50s and '60s style music, with an impressive opening number, "Girls Night Out," that sets the mood of the show. Lyrics range from childish to very witty. The cast puts them over with great vocal cords.

Ginger Riley (Into the Woods, Damn Yankees) gives a solid performance as the caustic Vern, and her climactic ballad of reconciliation with Bernice, played by Cynthia Myers (Heartbeats, three time Dean Goodman Award for her work at 42nd St Moon), is harmonious. Ms. Myers has great vocal range in "I've Made up My Mind."

Maureen McVerry (2006 SFBATCC award for supporting performance in a musical) is sparkling as the sensual Honey. Ariela Morgenstern (Vanities: a New Musical at TheatreWorks) is charming as Alison. She is particularly effective as the character rehearses for the Off-Off-Off-Broadway production of a musical version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and she puts across the hilarious "Cuckoo" song. Tami Dahbura (Off-Broadway Pajama Game, Forbidden Broadway) as Patsy and Linda Paplow (Senior Class, The Grapes of Wrath) as Minnie give sharp performance on both the vocal and acting track.

John Patrick Moore (New York Edward III plus 42nd Street Moon's The Boys from Syracuse, By Jupiter) holds his own among all of the women as the brawny bingo caller. He has great vocal chops in the duet "Gentleman Caller" and nice dancing moves in the little ballet to the song.

Bingo has audience participation as everyone gets a bingo card and a dauber when entering the theatre. There are three bingo games during the 90 minutes in which the winners gets a small cash prize. Charles Smith has designed an excellent set of a bingo hall with a large black and white photograph of the inventor of bingo, Edwin S. Lowe, plus a large lighted bingo score board on the wall. There is a bingo table and caller box with mike for Sam. Costumes by Carol Byrs are apropos middle class outfits worn by the bingo chicks. Lighting by Pamila Gray is bright; occasionally the "generator" during the storm gives out and the theatre is engulfed in total darkness. Lew Mead's sound is excellent, especially when the voice is announcing the storm warnings.

Bingo, A Winning New Musical plays through April 21 at the Dean Lesher Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek. Tickets can be obtained at their box office and Ticket Office Outlets at Barnes & Noble in Walnut Creek or can be purchased at www.centerREPertory.org or by calling 925-943-SHOW. The company's next production will be Alan Ayckbourn's How the Other Have Loves.


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema



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