Valerie Wright and John Scherer in The Mice
Valerie Wright and John Scherer in The Mice
Musical comedy is not dead, but it tends to be non-traditional. For example: the world premiere production of 3hree, a trio of one-act musicals conceived by legendary Broadway producer-director Hal Prince, now playing at the Philadelphia theater bearing his name.

If quirky, offbeat musical comedies are your cup of tea, the 3hree offers a tasty brew minus the saccharine. Where else can you find a menage of musicals about an adulterous exterminator, a ghostly flapper, and a New Jersey man who achieves flight via his Wal-Mart lawnchair?

Originally developed in the Harold Prince Musical Theatre Program at the Directors' Company in New York City, 3hree offers a showcase for talented young composers, librettists, lyricists, choreographers, and designers. And a sparkling cast of nine performers (with credits ranging from Broadway to Off-Broadway to regional theater) is up to the challenge.

The show begins with The Mice, arguably the least traditional of the three mini-musicals. Inspired by Sinclair Lewis' "Virga Vay & Allan Cedar," this oddly romantic tale with a book by Julia Jordan and music by Laurence O'Keefe tells the tale of an extramarital love affair between Virga Vay (Valerie Wright), the wife of a Minnesota tailor, and Allan Cedar (John Scherer), an exterminator. In order to create opportunities for the two lovers to rendezvous, Virga raises mice in her home and lets them loose in the homes of her friends. This enables her to meet Allan in the homes receiving his services.

Although Jordan has written short dramas before, this is her first musical. And, for the most part, it works. There are some unanswered questions at the end of the piece, but its entertaining mix of dark humor and romance compensate for the book's shortcomings, and the many plot twists in a show that runs about 30 minutes will keep you happily guessing what will happen next. O'Keefe's score is a pleasant hodge-podge of ballads and perky company numbers, although none of the five songs particularly stand out in one's memory after the performance. The choreography by Rob Ashford and Jeanne Simpson is clever and amusing, particularly as the dancing townfolk keep the production moving forward. The act's finale offers a fun homage to the romantic film musicals of the 1930s, with Walt Spangler's scenic design providing equally clever surprises.

Lavender Girl is a reworking of songwriter John Bucchino's musical Urban Myths. It tells the tale of Colin, a playboy in Montgomery, Alabama (circa 1927), who is happy dancing and making out with as many girls as he can before skipping out of town and avoiding emotional commitments. Driving to a party, Colin nearly hits a mysterious young woman walking on the road. Struck by her beauty, he asks Emily to be his date for the party, and love ensues. The show has a strong score, with a particularly nifty "We've Got Time" chorus number. Lavender Girl's only real drawback is its predictability; the "surprise ending" of this urban myth should be a shocker rather than a forseeable conclusion.

Christopher Fitzgerald and Rachel Ulanetin The Flight of the Lawnchair Man
Christopher Fitzgerald and Rachel Ulanet
in The Flight of the Lawnchair Man
Without a doubt, the greatest success of 3hree is its final component, directed by Prince himself. The Flight of the Lawnchair Main is a laugh-out-loud funny and tuneful piece about a Passaic, NJ man whose desire to fly leads him to strap 400 helium-filled balloons to his lawnchair and take to the friendly skies. With a comic touch as light as the Loony Tune balloons that carry Jerry into the stratosphere, Lawnchair Man features a book that sharply satires the maschismo of airline pilots, the kitchiness of suburbia, and Hollywood's skewered portrayals of aviation legends, all to the tune of melodic, catchy songs by Robert Lindsay-Nassif. There is terrific character work by Donna Lynne Champlin as Gracie, the simple girlfriend whom Jerry leaves behind but who continues to support him in reaching his dreams; Scherer as airline pilot Big Jack Preston, who still resents flunking his Rorschach test and being removed from the NASA space program; and Christopher Fitzgerald as Jerry, the dreamer whose oxygen deprivation carries him over Jersey and beyond, where he gets advice from the likes of Leonardo DaVinci, Charles Lindbergh, and Amelia Earhart.

Once again, Spangler's scenic design is marvelous, and Miguel Angel Huidor's costumes match the characters in their cleverness and humor. A kind of fantasia for the Everyman who seeks to achieve his dream, no matter how ridiculous that dream might be, The Flight of the Lawnchair Man is worth taking.

3hree runs at the Prince Music Theater, 1412 Chestnut Street, through November 19. Tickets are $30-$35, available by calling UpStages at (215) 569-9700 or toll-free at (866) 273-3FREE.

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2000 Barrymore Award Winners

The Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia held its annual Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theater on Monday, October 16, honoring the talents and achievements of the local theater community. The big winners of the evening were the Wilma Theater's production of the Tom Stoppard drama The Invention of Love, which walked away with five awards, and the Philadelphia Theatre Company's Dinah Was, which garnered three awards.

And the winners are:

Outstanding Overall Production of a Play
The Invention of Love, The Wilma Theater

Outstanding Overall Production of a Musical
Dinah Was: The Dinah Washington Musical, Philadelphia Theatre Company

Outstanding Direction of a Play
Blanka Zizka, The Invention of Love, The Wilma Theater

Harold Prince Award for Outstanding Direction of a Musical
Ben Levit, The Hidden Sky, Prince Music Theater

Outstanding Leading Actor in a Play
Martin Rayner, The Invention of Love (AEH), The Wilma Theater

Charlotte Cushman Award for Outstanding Leading Actress in a Play
Randy Danson, Wit (Vivian Bearing), Philadelphia Theatre Company

Outstanding Leading Actor in a Musical
Christopher Sutton, Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story (Buddy Holly), Walnut Street Theatre

Outstanding Leading Actress in a Musical
E. Faye Butler, Dinah Was: The Dinah Washington Musical (Dinah Washington), Philadelphia Theatre Company

Outstanding Supporting Actgor in a Play
Ian Merrill Peakes, Side Man (Clifford), Philadelphia Theatre Company

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Play
E. Ashley Izard, Beyond Therapy (Dr. Charlotte Wallace), Lantern Theater Company

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Musical
Joel Blum, The Tin Pan Alley Rag (Ted Snyder/Alfred Ernst/John Stark), The Wilma Theater

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Musical
Carla J. Hargrove, Dinah Was: The Dinah Washington Musical (Maye/Mama Jones/Violet), Philadelphia Theatre Company

Outstanding Set Design
Michael McGarty, The Invention of Love, The Wilma Theater

Outstanding Lighting Design
Russell J. Champa, The Invention of Love, The Wilma Theater

Outstanding Costume Design
Theoni V. Aldredge and Colleen McMillan, La Cage aux Folles, Walnut Street Theatre

Outstanding Sound Design
Whit MacLaughlin, Drink Me, InterAct Theatre Company

Outstanding Choreography
Richard Stafford, La Cage aux Folles, Walnut Street Theatre

Outstanding Original Music
Michael "Hawkeye" Herman, El Paso Blue, Venture Theatre

Outstanding New Play
Michael Hollinger, Red Herring, Arden Theatre Company

Outstanding Ensemble
Side Man, Philadelphia Theatre Company

Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News Award for Excellence in Theatre Education and Community Service
InterAction, InterAct Theatre Company

F. Otto Haas Award for an Emerging Philadelphia Theatre Artist
John Lumia

Lifetime Achievement Award
Adele Magner, Philadelphia Young Playwrights Festival