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Five Into Four-Part Harmonies: From left, Robyn Winslow, Lisa-Marie Newton, Heidi Kobara, Ashley Rockwood and Michelle Barrow-Ianiro in 'A ... My Name Is Alice.'

Alice Has a Mixed Bag

City Lights puts five women through their singing paces in 'A ... My Name Is Alice'

By Marianne Messina

FOUR-PART women's harmonies —tight, buoyant and sung to a live combo—this is the strength of A ... My Name Is Alice now at City Lights Theatre Company. In the opening and closing number ("All Girl Band"), the five women who act the countless roles in this review-style production fill the air with choreography (Shannon Stowe) and a rich, lovely sound you want to hear more of. The song promises a hot musical and lots of girl power to come. It's also where director Lisa Mallette demonstrates that a good company can pull off a fulfilling musical feel with minimal space, performers and instruments.

But from there, the show progresses into a really mixed bag of contextually isolated songs and skits with several clunkers and some amateurish dead space. If one person had written this variety show themed around women's relationships and empowerment, it would be easy to give that individual leeway, credit even, for stretching their conceptual bag of tricks to the max. There's a duet ("Friends") with creative phrasing that celebrates the best-girlfriend relationship (sweetly sung by Ashley Rockwood and Robyn Winslow). There are clever ensemble numbers, like "Trash," a spoof on romance novels (carried heavily by the humorously minxy moments of Heidi Kobara). There are monologues and one-woman ballads.

However, one person didn't write it; about 30 women and men contributed to the content, and it shows. At times, the lyrics are clichéd or cloying. At other times, the girl-talk lyrics feel disingenuous enough to suggest they were written by a man. And a couple of lounge-lizard ballads could not be carried off by all the sweet singing in Bulgaria. Even the top-notch production team fails to come to the rescue of Alice's five talented singer/actresses.

The usually sensitive set designer Ron Gasparinetti has created a naked stage that only a hyperactive chorus line could fill. Often the women sit uncomfortably on bar stools in the middle of nowhere doing that keep-my-legs-closed thing women in skirts do when their lap is at eye-level—women's empowerment it's not. Between this, the frumpy costumes a la Jane Lambert and the fact that there's no through line to give any of the songs context, too many scenes just needed help—give the girl a sofa chair to sprawl in or lie sideways in while painting her toe nails or do yoga in!

Still, the versatile cast members did all they could to develop these "instant stories." The stronger tunes/lyrics let the women bring out their big personalities. In "Honey Pot," for example, Michelle Barrow-Ianiro shines brightly as a frisky blues singer. And Robyn Winslow plays the shrink who interrupts Honey Pot's suggestive song every time she sings of sex metaphorically—lyrics like "handy, dandy fixit man" were not going to fly.

The male-stripper show was fun with the mirrored ball hung over the audience (we were apparently the stripper act). The skit ends with the five drunk and emboldened ladies rushing offstage to slip bills in the, well, hands, of men in the house. Overall, I'd say lower your expectations, have a few drinks before the show, kiss your grrrl-power ring for good juju, and maybe A ... My Name Is Alice will show you a good time.

A ... My Name Is Alice, a City Lights Theater Company Production, plays Thursday-Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 7pm (except June 26 at 2pm) through June 26 at City Lights, 529 S. Second St., San Jose. Tickets are $13-$24. (408.295.4200)

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From the May 25-31, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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