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‘Ritz’ succeeds in creating good time

Sometimes you admire a production as much for what it doesn't do as for what it does.

There's a moment in Las Vegas Little Theatre's "The Ritz" in which diva wannabe Googie Gomez hopes to impress a supposedly visiting producer with her enormous "talent." We're in a New York gay bathhouse, and our Googie will go anywhere with anyone to become a big star.

Actress Olga Rios, in an exaggerated Puerto Rican accent with two blond, skimpily clad pretty boys at her side, lashes out with a series of show tunes that are sung and choreographed so delightfully rotten that your laughter extends well into the next scene. (Sample lyric: "Mañana! Mañana! I love you! Mañana! You're always a day away.")

Yet, the moment has the ring of truth. Had director Walter Niejadlik and Rios not found the right scale for this, it would have been unbearable to watch. Instead we fall in love with this oversized kook and all her crazy dreams.

Terrence McNally's 1975 farce puts a lot of demands on actors, and the cast is up to the challenge. The plot pretends to be about a man hiding out from his murderous in-laws. It's really an excuse to get a heterosexual male inside an establishment where homosexual males eager for sex cruise rooms and hallways draped mostly in nothing but towels (and occasionally much less).

McNally makes no judgments. He simply has fun with the clash of lifestyles. You have to keep in mind that the script is pre-AIDS. There are some jokes which seem downright cruel today. But there's enough on-target mayhem so that the play is more blissful than dated.

The sensually heavy-set Rios is a spitfire talent. But happily, she's not the whole show. Todd Simmonds, as the desperate man on the run, is a big and beefy actor with layers of charisma and drop-dead perfect delivery. Michael Higdon -- a 35-year-old law professor -- somehow projects the youthfulness and flightiness of a go-go boy. And Brian Scott, who often plays roles with masculine authority, brings hilarious delicacy to the role of a flaming queen who befriends our hapless hero.

Niejadlik gets a fine ensemble effect so that there's nary a moment that jars you out of the story. The evening wants nothing more than to give you a good time, and the director and cast succeed with at least a dozen laughs to spare.

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at DelValle@aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

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