The marquee at L.A.’s Ahmanson Theatre reads ”the new musical comedy.” New? Technically. This limited engagement (through March 1) marks the world premiere of the 10-years-in-the-making Minsky’s, based on William Friedkin’s 1968 movie The Night They Raided Minsky’s. But the kooky little throwback of a show is as familiar as they come. Minsky (played by the appealing Christopher Fitzgerald) runs a house of burlesque on NYC’s Lower East Side in the middle of the Depression. He’s got a banana boat full of problems — including the untalented Beula (SNL alum Rachel Dratch, who gets big laughs from her posture and her Anton Chigurh wig but needs to sharpen, strangely, her comic timing). But his two biggest headaches are an uptight city councilman (George Wendt) on an anti-obscenity crusade and plummeting ticket sales. ”I think that was on account of the weather,” suggests his accountant (John Cariani). ”Or it could be on account of nobody’s got any money,” counters Minsky, who falls head over heels for the priggish politician’s perky blonde daughter (Katharine Leonard, in a role made for Shrek star Sutton Foster).
That the show features a custard-pies-in-the-face gag should tell you something about Minsky’s motives; that one cheery Charles Strouse tune is called ”Happy” and another is titled ”Tap Happy” should tell you more. As Susan Birkenhead’s buck-up lyrics in ”You Gotta Get Up When You’re Down” goes: ”Everyone wants to escape now/Put on a ‘happy time’ hat/Country’s in terrible shape now/Who wants to think about that?” But to rise to the level of any of the period musicals it echoes — such as 42nd Street, Crazy for You, or director-choreographer Casey Nicholaw and librettist Bob Martin’s own Drowsy Chaperone — Minsky’s needs more: more skin, more sequins, more scantily clad chorines, more comic bits. If you’re gonna go over the top — and if you’re putting Wendt in a dress, you’re over the top — then go way over the top. B
(Tickets: 213-628-2772 or centertheatregroup.org)