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Edgy, Twisty, Heartfelt: It's Only Life

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The set up: You won't hear simple rhymes like "moon, June, spoon" in this compilation revue by composer/lyricist John Bucchino (A Catered Affair). His interior monologues are gem-size musical short stories, each with its own distinct tone and emotional pitch, geared for the frantic urbanite searching for love. His work, like that of other contemporary Broadway composers, is highly influenced by Stephen Sondheim, with its patented edgy lyrics and spiky harmonies.

What sets Bucchino apart and gives his sound its own special niche are his lyrical melodies, which soar with fervor ("Grateful"), twang with earthy regret ("Sweet Dreams") and lift troubled spirits ("If I Ever Say I'm Over You"). Heartfelt and always passionate in style, these 23 songs are clever and twisty, but funny isn't in Bucchino's repetoire. As the lady seated at the adjoining cocktail table leaned over and asked me at intermission -- the show plays at Ovations, a nightclub venue that suits this adult material like a dry martini -- "Do you think he ever laughs?"

Character-driven and emotionally raw, the music for Catered Affair is without humor, too, and hence rather dreary. "Contact High" is the only humorous piece, but it's so short it's over before you really get it. The remaining songs are angst-filled and regretful for failed affairs and love gone sour, and while they are all finely crafted and amazingly performed, the sameness casts a pall.

The execution: Unobtrusively directed by Andrew Ruthven with minimal showiness for maximum impact, Life is blessed with a quintet of ultra-talented performers who simply stand at the front mics to deliver the goods and then sit and watch appreciatively in the background as another takes a turn. You couldn't ask for better singers, who perform their numbers with simple honesty and sincerity. In the intimate setting, Susan Draper, Jamie Geiger, Cole Ryden, Christina Stroup and David Wald sing just to us and share Bucchino's musical gift with abundant generosity.

The verdict: If the show accomplishes nothing else, it makes us want to hear more Bucchino. There's got to be some comedy in that impressive catalog somewhere.

Through June 19. Main Street Theater at Ovations, 2536 Times Blvd., 713-524-6706.

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