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Theater Review

A collection of skits and songs about Hollywood of the 1930s and 1940s, RiffRaff Productions' musical revue "Steppin' Out" lacks focus and flow.

Compiled, arranged, accompanied, designed and directed by Modesto keyboardist John Duerner, it veers haphazardly from slapstick comedy bits to serious monologues and back again.

There doesn't seem to be much of a plan for what the dozen performers are supposed to do when they aren't in a featured bit. Instead of leaving the stage, they sit or stand awkwardly in the background, counting the minutes until their next song.

Duerner really could have benefitted from using a separate director to help him tighten the revue and more effectively showcase the cast's talents.

Some stronger vocalists were sadly underused, while weaker singers who should have performed only in group numbers were given solos. I would have liked to hear much more from youngest cast member Francesca Heyward, a Downey High School sophomore and two-time finalist in the Modesto Symphony Orchestra Young Idol talent contest. She not only has pipes but conveys an infectious enthusiasm for these old standards.

The other most consistent performers at Saturday night's show were Sheila Donovan, Philip Fincher, Bruce Merchant and Lonnie Brock. Duerner's keyboard skills were beyond reproach and his musical arrangements were clever and fun.

Written 30 years ago and first performed in Hollywood, the revue features standards such as "Let's Call The Whole Thing Off," "Over the Rainbow," "Singin' in the Rain," "Button Up Your Overcoat," "Happy Days Are Here Again" and "As Time Goes By."

Sprinkled in are groan-inducing comedy bits such as a tap routine featuring a nun, a Shirley Temple impersonation by a large man in drag and a homage to Elmer Fudd and Marlene Die-trich. There are brief lectures about the history of radio and comparisons of the entertainers of the past to Paris Hilton and Britney Spears.

Cast members wear evening gowns and tuxes and perform in front of a modest cityscape set in Townsend Opera Players' Little Opera Hall. It doesn't appear as if there was a lot of thought put into details — as one example, during a singalong, actors hold up the lyrics — on signs hastily scribbled in pen and ink.

The entire show has a casual feel, as if it were an impromptu concert put on for friends at a party or for a summer camp talent show. While some may find this endearing, others will see a lack of respect for a ticket-paying audience.

To comment, click on the link with this review at Bee arts writer Lisa Millegan can be reached at 578-2313 or

'Steppin' Out'


Where: Townsend Opera Players' Little Opera Hall, 611 H Street, Modesto

When: Fridays and Saturdays 7:30 p.m. and Sundays 2 p.m. through March 17

Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes, including an intermission

Tickets: $15

Information: 756-1758

**** Excellent

*** Good

** Fair

* Poor