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The All Night Strut

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Picture Trafford: A tiny town of 3,000 people with sloped streets and brick row-houses. The curb is lined with pick-up trucks and the telephone poles are festooned with American flags. It's a quiet place; you might walk for an hour and pass only one squad car, making rounds. "For Rent" signs are everywhere, even on the closed antique store. Passersby nod. Somewhere, a dog barks. 

 Then you enter the Theatre Factory, and the lobby is packed with people, talking excitedly. Even on a Sunday afternoon, half the seats have sold. The lights come up on the Factory's tiny stage, and two men and two women burst onstage, singing "The Chattanooga Choo Choo" and whipping their microphones around like dance partners. You have left one universe -- run-down, boarded up -- and entered another, peppier one: The All Night Strut is 27 songs performed in two acts; there's no dialogue, no story, barely a pause for breath. The audience claps to the rhythm, and some folks even sing along. 

Strut began life as a musical revue at someplace called Pickle Bill's, in Cleveland, the brainchild of one Fran Charnas. But its origins are beside the point: Strut compiles the best of 1930s and 40s pop music, from "In the Mood" to "Lullaby of Broadway," and it's pure, old-timey fun. It's song and dance and funny asides. It's Groucho Marx glasses and jazz hands and a 10-minute medley of World War II hits. The orchestra consists of one pianist, a cello and drum set. Four-part harmony abounds. This show is the hot chocolate of musical theater: It's warm, sugary and goes down easy. 

Amanda Slaughter is the resident auteur, who not only directed and choreographed but also co-stars. The Theatre Factory has a modest stage, a prime setting for four crooners and their microphones, and it's astounding how much whirling and tap-dancing Slaughter can arrange in such a small space. Leah Hillgrave, Jonathan Surmacz and Ted Watts, Jr. all possess premium voices, and their dance shows adequate flair. These are no small achievements for a cast that was born decades after "G.I. Jive" was considered an old song. 

The All Night Strut doesn't take nearly all night -- it fits comfortably into two hours, and these songs will surely exhaust most Traffordians. For a town that has been forced to hibernate, Strut is a badly needed shot of adrenaline. Let's hope the Theatre Factory keeps the prescription strong. 

 

The All Night Strut continues thru Sun., Aug. 2. The Theatre Factory, Cavitt Avenue and 3rd Street, Trafford. 412-374-9200 or www.theatrefactory.com

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