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New York, New York: Part 2

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Yes, I was dazzled by the dopey stagecraft of the opening number at UCLA, "Omigod You Guys," with Elle's sorority sisters sliding down firehouse poles -- and getting dressed to go before they hit the ground! A seat at Legally Blonde also gets you an excuse to ogle at the architectural excess of the Palace Theatre and marvel at the total cluelessness of the tourist hordes. "Where is the orchestra?" somebody behind me inquired -- after the conductor was introduced.

Clocking in at two hours and 15 minutes, Blonde was overlong for one klatch of suburban sophisticates we overheard at intermission. Maybe Hach and her musical team, Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin, work a little too hard to tease the hairdresser role of Paulette (Orfeh as the punk pretender) into a legitimate subplot, so yes, I would have cut "Ireland" and its reprise out of Act 1. And shouldn't the perky star of Legally Blonde, Laura Bell Bundy, be naturally blonde?

I doubt those were the quibbles troubling the suburbanite jury, decked out in rhinestone eye-glasses, who were huddling in the aisle. To me, they were part of the show -- and a plus. Long live showbiz!

Off-Broadway

Dai (Enough) (***1/2) -- The concept alone should hook you. Ten people in a Tel Aviv café reveal their quirks, their cares, their politics and their souls -- each interrupted in mid-sentence by the bomb blast that ends their lives, detonated by a suicidal terrorist. Bronx-born Irene Bahr, who served a stint in the Israeli army, wrote all these monologues, immersing herself in the minds of Israelis and Europeans of both genders before giving the last anguished words to an Arab.

No less remarkable, Bahr performs all 11 monologues with an eye for the characters' mannerisms that is as sharp as her ear is to their various accents. The cellphone-toting American Jew, Alma Lynn (mother of Cassidy Dylan), is particularly devastating. Each time the bomb goes off, and we hear the chaotic aftermath, Bahr is chameleonically changing clothes and characters on the dimmed stage. As often as that bomb interrupts the monologues, we never get used to its savage, senseless brutality. (Through March 2.)

Die Mommie Die (***1/4) -- Charles Busch, the extraordinary transvestite playwright, has created a delicious vehicle for himself as he portrays ruthless Angela Arden, the aging superstar who will stop at nothing to revive her fading fortunes. Clearly, Busch's fans worship his every moue and snarl, yet the stage diva delivers far more than his own imperial presence.

His Highness has intricately plotted this comedy thriller, packaging additional twists after we're already satisfied. Along the way, the humor is broad and raunchy, featuring Chris Hoch as Tony Parker, a hyperconfident gigolo with an 11-inch dong. Angela's sugar daddy, film mogul Sol Sussman, gets a wonderful rendition from Bob Ari. Sol can't quite see that his darling son Lance might be gay -- even after he's played Ado Annie in Oklahoma! -- but he does receive ample compensation for wife Angela's infidelity via daughter Edith's hearty hellos (and the stray lapdance).

Yes, the queen who once gave us Vampire Lesbians of Sodom has graced his loyal subjects with another bawdy winner. (Through Feb. 17.)

The Glorious Ones (***1/4) -- Reviewed in last week's Lincoln Center roundup. (Closed on Jan. 6.)

The Screwtape Letters (***) -- Ordinarily, one-person shows stretch my patience, but this adaptation of C.S. Lewis's epistolary novel, by director Jeffrey Fiske and his protagonist Max McLean, was a sinfully delicious exception. After scaling to an upper floor at a church converted to St. Clement's Theatre, we look down on a wondrously appalling vision of hell, where His Abysmal Sublimity Screwtape has his efficient little office.

McLean veers deftly between the various Screwtapes we encounter in his letters. Generally, he is avuncular in his correspondence with his unseen acolyte Wormwood as this junior temptor strives here on earth to recruit his first soul to the netherworld. Yet as Wormwood's fortunes shift -- along with his own -- Screwtape may rage, shrivel into unctuous servility, or reveal his primal cannibalistic core.

Greatly enriching this infernal treat was Karen Eleanor Wight as Toadpipe, Screwtape's eternally silent personal secretary. Slithering on the floor to transcribe her master's dictation, slinking up a pole to post it, Toadpipe was a constant undertow of evil even when Screwtape himself was his most charming and provocative -- a Cirque du Soleil imp turned into nightmare. During those delicious instances when she bared her teeth, we realized that the servile Toadpipe was also a carnivore, hungrily dependent on her master's scraps. (Closed on Jan. 6.)


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