Comedy, Lightweight Division

Not easily cowed by such inanities, director Ron Headrick brings shrewd theatrical instincts to his concept of the play. In the first act, he triumphantly subverts the often ludicrously mythological story line through tongue-in-cheek direction and an eye for vibrant spectacle. He coaxes splendid performances from his marvelous cast of students and recent theater department grads, all of whom, from the principals to the chorus members, sing, dance, and act with aplomb. And, in concert with musical director Gene Palumbo, he stages two songs ("My Garden" and "Love Song") as musical journeys: Each starts with one actor singing quietly, then builds until the entire ensemble belts out the number with bawdy abandon.

In the second act, however, the script's fablelike pretensions get the better of Headrick and his players; the actors do not deliver on the excitement stirred up during act one because they take the next-to-last scene of the musical -- a preposterous face-off between good and evil in the Garden of Eden -- too seriously; unable to sustain the cynical intelligence that preceded it, the ending falls flat.

Despite an unsatisfying close, Celebration has much to recommend it, beginning with a killer young cast. Dressed in tattered garb, Hasan imbues his wily character with the sly wisdom of an ancient jester. A fetching female lead with a bottomless voice, Briscoe negotiates her role and the stage with cool confidence. As Orphan, Allen evolves from an endearingly sweet waif into a lover-in-heat, and the chemistry between Allen and Briscoe is combustible. Jean-Paul Mulero delivers a stand-out performance as the rich yet miserable businessman. His buffoonery and his large size (he pads his body to make himself look fat) suggest a comic version of Orson Welles as the morally bankrupt newspaper tycoon in Citizen Kane. I've seen Mulero on stage in numerous performances during the last few seasons; in this role he finally comes into his own.

Anyone who has been to 3rd Street's intimate performance space, tucked behind the karaoke stage at San Villa restaurant in downtown Miami, will be delighted to see how set designer Dorset Noble magically transforms the area with multileveled platforms, cut-outs in the shape of trees, and strings of lights. Sylvia Minchew-Marchman's colorful and mischievous costumes, along with Marilyn Carrera and Pete Beers's whimsical props and Venetian carnival masks, complement the set. And a sizzling on-stage musical trio led by Palumbo accompanies the actors. The musicians move effortlessly between jazz, gospel, pop, torch song, and calypso tempos, although at times the band overpowers the singers in such a small space.

Neither Tomfoolery nor Celebration will feed your head. The former, however, may satisfy a craving for goofy wit and rambunctious musical performances, while the latter just might dazzle you with the talents of young stars in the making.

Tomfoolery. Music and lyrics by Tom Lehrer; directed by David Arisco; with Margot Moreland, Paul Louis, Stephen Jordan, and Oscar Cheda. Through August 17. For information, call 444-9293 or see "Calendar Listings."

Celebration. Book, music, and lyrics by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt; directed by Ron Headrick; with Faisal Hasan, Jason "Sky" Allen, Kelly Briscoe, and Jean- Paul Mulero. Through August 11. For information call 754-8948 or see "Calendar Listings.

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