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An uneven start

With the revue "Starting Here, Starting Now," O'Connell and Company, applying its characteristic "let's put on a show!" spirit, presents another textbook example of this genre.

While this is an uneven production, with several challenges facing the seven game performers, it is worth noting that the company -- headed by producer and artistic director Mary Kate O'Connell -- consistently presents a range of shows with enthusiasm and commitment.

This show -- music by David Shire and lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr. -- will have appeal for revue aficionados, even though the material itself presents part of the challenge. Though the show was written in 1975, many of the songs -- the girls sing odes to boyfriends with names like Albert and Hecky -- felt more like 1950, with corn and cliche factors not expected from this quality writing team.

There is a loose theme in the 26 or so numbers, exploring relationships and addressing attitudes to help one get through life. There are several lovely and memorable songs. "A Girl You Want to Know" and "What About Today" both stand out as introspective ballads told from the woman's point of view. "I Don't Believe It" is a cute party/ensemble scene, portraying a couple much too insistent about their fabulous marriage; the other partygoers give their impressions and comments, and finally the truth is revealed.

Of the four women in the cast, Colleen Marcello shines with her acting and comedic talents, as well as her expressive vocals. Leah Schneider also has a strong and lovely voice, plus a bit of crackle to her performing ability. Jennifer Caruana achieved a connection with the audience, as her more subdued demeanor complemented Marcello's and Schneider's perkier personas. Of the four, Yvette Bedgood seemed to be the least confident and the least experienced.

The men also presented varying degrees of ability and pleasure. Michael Tosha, an O'Connell regular, can effectively deliver a song. Christopher Andreana's quiet tenor did not have a lot of projection -- the cast was unmiked, and the intimate theater's space was easily filled by the stronger singers' voices. Casey Denton, with his anomalous high-kicking, made us go "wow."

The band was not the most energetic. And a vaguely dissonant feeling pervaded, as the members' collective stylings did not offer a lot of lyricism. Several of the arrangements were distracting, introducing horn and synthesizer elements that seemed inappropriate for the simplicity of the production.

The direction -- by Tom Doyle, who also provided the musical direction and led the band -- and choreography, by Jack Greenan, added challenges as well. Some of the movement seemed perfunctory -- "OK, I'm putting my leg up on this box now . . ." -- and some unnecessary.

The performers were asked to kick-ball-change/chorus line their way through five or six "production numbers." They might have been able to serve the material better by standing still for more of the time.

***

"Starting Here, Starting Now"

2 stars (out of 4)

Musical presented by O'Connell and Company through Feb. 11 in Cabaret in the Square Theatre, 4476 Main St., Amherst.

For more information, call 839-3949 or visit www.oconnellandcompany.com.

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