By Mike Carver, Mark Hardwick,
Debra Monk and Mary Murfitt
Directed by Karen Lund
Taproot Theatre
204 N. 85th St. Seattle, WA 98103 / (206) 781-9707

Reviewed by Jerry Kraft

Some shows are just so much fun that to be overly critical seems both inappropriate and ungrateful. "Oil City Symphony" is a shamelessly ingratiating little revue intended to amuse anyone willing to abandon higher esthetics long enough to enjoy some pleasant tunes, accept a homely little concept and accede to some sentiment. It's silly, self-effacing, high-spirited and irresistible. The two man, two woman cast is talented enough to get us past some of the show's lesser moments, and not so talented that we question the notion that these are amateurs with more heart than genius.

The premise is that we are in a high school auditorium where four former students, once the most promising musicians in the school, have returned a few years later to present this revue. Still promising, if not much more accomplished, they take us through everything from an audience-participation hokey-pokey to a sing-along gospel tune to a surf music slash patriotic medley. In the show's most astonishing number, the imposing Rachel Hornor delivers the psychedelic hangover "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida", flaying the melody with her strong soprano and playing the guitar lead on flute. The evening rises to a sublime absurdity at that point, and while not everything is quite as inspired, there is always a fine balance of the ludicrous, the inane and the appallingly sincere.

The ensemble, in addition to Ms. Hornor, is made up of Kendra Bigley, Robert Bigley and Jared Lyn Madsen. Ms. Bigley is an attractive, put-together woman who looks like her yearbook entry might have listed band, debate and prom committee. She brings a small, lovely voice and solid musicianship. Robert Bigley is something of the overly energetic, natural M.C. As a "championship level" hokey-pokey master, he manages to make that both likely and likeable. Jared Lyn Madsen half-hides behind his keyboards with a perpetual deer-in-the-headlights look. One surmises that his post highschool experiences may have included spiked sugar cubes and journeys with Carlos Castenada. The ensemble shares the evening quite equally, although Ms. Hornor has the best blend of music, acting and general vivacity. The group mixes just enough resentment and rivalry into the sweet punch to make their friendship seem plausible.

Director Karen Lund keeps everything moving well, even when the material that opens the second act drags. She also keeps a careful check on the silliness, so that it is all quite amusing but never tries too hard, or forces us to respond. In the end, this is a show that never forgets exactly what it is, a light, insignificant entertainment. It doesn't need to be loved, but it certainly is easy to like.

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