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Theater review: 'When Garbo Talks!' at International City Theatre

October 20, 2010 |  4:49 pm

Garbo In 1928, Hollywood execs screened a film featuring a young Swedish actress. Their verdict: “She can either act or start a new religion.” Five years later, Greta Garbo became the highest paid female in America — a bisexual New Woman who retired at the age of 36. Unfortunately, “When Garbo Talks!,” the late Buddy Kaye’s tepid musical receiving its world premiere at International City Theatre in Long Beach, doesn’t begin to penetrate her legendary mystique.

Kaye’s book, with additions by his son, Richard, tells the story of Garbo finding her voice: as a woman, a silent movie siren and, finally, a star in the talkies. We meet an awkward Greta Gustafsson (the willowy Jessica Burrows) in Sweden, auditioning for film auteur Mauritz Stiller (Michael Stone Forrest). Greta’s stunning movie debut is clocked by Louis B. Mayer (Matthew Henerson), who invites her to Hollywood. Soon she’s captivating audiences and costars such as John Gilbert (Christopher Carothers) while tortured by homesickness and the demands of fame.

Burrows looks terrific in designer Kim DeShazo’s increasingly glamorous costumes, but Kaye’s predictable narrative and the undistinguished score by Mort Garson make this excursion into Tinseltown’s golden era as reductive as a basic cable biography. Too bad, since director Jules Aaron’s hardworking ensemble musters plenty of charm. A missed opportunity.

-- Charlotte Stoudt

“When Garbo Talks!” International City Theatre, Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Nov. 7. $35-$45. (562) 436-4610 or Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes.

Photo: Jessica Burrows and Christopher Carothers. Credit: Shashin Desai.