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American Century Opens Two Shows In One Night

Cole Porter’s lyric, "Another Op’nin’, Another Show," took on new meaning this weekend, as Arlington’s American Century Theatre company opened two shows at two different local theaters on the same Saturday night.

Jack Marshall, the company’s Artistic Director, was the director of both the collection of sketch comedy and song stylist impersonations, "Laughter at 10 O’Clock" that opened at Arlington’s Theatre on the Run, and the musical "Danny & Sylvia" that opened at Alexandria’s MetroStage.

"Laughter at 10 O’Clock" is a unique recreation of some of the best material that drew millions to their television sets for the dozen years that "The Carol Burnett Show" ran on CBS.

The show dominated the ratings for the 10 p.m. time period for most of that time, dropping to lower ratings when CBS tried it out in earlier time slots. Throughout its run, the winning combination was sketch comedy featuring Carol Burnett, Tim Conway, Harvey Korman and Vicky Lawrence, and guest stars who would sing and participate in the the show’s signature skits.

To recreate those ghosts of television past, Marshall has Nancy Dolliver, a comedian from The Capitol Steps, handling the role of "Carol" and all the roles that Burnett played in the sketches.

Dolliver is somewhat reminiscent of Burnett herself and handles the comic duties, a bit stiffly but with a clarity that is necessary for sketch comedy.

Bruce Alan Rauscher, nominated for a Hayes Award for his role in American Century’s "The Andersonville Trial," shows a great flare for comedy in the roles originally brought to life by Tim Conway.

He also takes on the task of impersonating one of the musical guests. He is a marvelously funny Sonny Bono, pairing up with Kathryn Fuller’s dead-on Cher impersonation for "I Got You Babe," complete with the banter that was their trademark during their own television heyday. Bill Karukas is almost as good a straight man as Harvey Korman was in many sketches.

These and other classic sketches from the show will be familiar to anyone who saw them when they first aired during the show’s 1967-1978 run, or the re-runs that are still a staple of cable television.

There’s "Carol" and "Harvey" throwing their possessions out the window, "Carol" and "Vicky" filming a coffee commercial and, perhaps the funniest of the collection, "Harvey" as Judge Hardy explaining the facts of life to "Tim" as Mickey Rooney/Andy Hardy. Of course, there are also the trademark attempts to keep a straight face and breakups that made this type of television so much fun.

Marshall includes impersonations, complete with karaoke accompaniment, of some of Burnett’s musical guests, like Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme (Scott Kenison and Karen Hayes) Marie Osmond (Katie Rice) and Englebert Humperdinck (George Chapin. The impersonations fill out the show which, unlike the television version, goes on for over two hours.

That turns out to be a bit too long, but they save the best for the next-to-last slot, the "Gone with the Breeze" sketch.

Karukas breathes new life into Korman’s Clark Gable impersonation, and Marshall brings back every detail of Burnett’s entrance as Scarlett in a dress made from window drapes, with drapery rod still in place. Then everyone signs the guest book while "Carol" tugs at her ear.

The same night they opened "Laughter at 10 O’Clock," American Century brought to a Virginia stage the production of "Danny & Sylvia," the original musical biography of Danny Kaye and his songwriter wife Sylvia Fine that first opened last year at Bethesda’s Writers’ Center. The production, complete with its leading man, Brian Childers as Danny, opened a six-week run at MetroStage, 1201 N. Royal St., in Alexandria.

Childers is nothing short of amazing in the role, which explains why the role netted him the Hayes Award for best actor in a musical. Perry Payne will star opposite Childers for the first two weeks of the run. Then Janine Gulisano, who played Sylvia in Bethesda last year and was nominated for a Hayes Award as well, returns for the July performances. Both Gulisano and Payne have strong, clear, powerful voices, a nice easy way with comic material and each create a strong bond with Childers’ Danny.