Once upon a time there was a fanciful musical about a chain-smoking neurotic who underwent psychiatric hypnosis to kick the habit but instead stumbled upon a past-life romance with an eternal soul mate. This describes Alan Jay Lerner and Burton Lane's 1965 tuner On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, yet it's also an apt synopsis for Twice Upon a Time, Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities' world premiere musical. Despite the conceptual link with a vintage show, Twice goes beyond artistic larceny. It's graced with a fresh and funny libretto by writer-director Ray Cooney and a generally appealing score by composer Chris Walker.

This maiden effort as a librettist by the master of farce Cooney forgoes frenetic slapstick for engaging storytelling, though the complex plot gets a bit unwieldy in the second act. Nonetheless, the madcap metaphysics provide a simpatico fit with the conventions of old-fashioned musical comedy. The story goes back and forth between 1929 Chicago, on the eve of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, and present-day London, where hypnotized lawyer Steven (Brandon Michael Perkins) discovers that in his Jazz Age incarnation he was Johnny, a rookie henchman for ruthless mobster Bugs Moran (Sam Zeller). Johnny made the terrible mistake of falling for Moran's saucy moll Ruby (Misty Cotton). As Steven unravels the details of his alter ego's existence, he learns lessons that help resolve his present-day travails.

Though portions of the score sound generically bland, there are charming ditties and sweet romantic ballads in the mix. Choreographer Karen Nowicki supplies sprightly production numbers, particularly those with a 1920s flair.

Playing the dual leading men, Perkins is an irresistible bungling hero. He's a resourceful comedian and a fine singer, adeptly carrying this breezily enjoyable vehicle. Sweet-voiced Cotton gives double pleasure as the femme fatale chanteuse Ruby and Steven's present-day flame, Linda. Also impressive are Zeller's two amusing turns, as separate villainous characters, and British vet Millicent Martin, effervescent in a surprisingly small role as a daffy dowager.

Adding to the fun are splendid supporting characterizations from Jennifer Malenke, Robert Machray, Kevin Symons, Monica Smith, Jeffrey Rockwell, Danny Bolero, and Carly Nykanen. Dennis Castellano's music direction is terrific, and the spiffy-looking production boasts stylish design elements. Though trimming and general fine-tuning are needed if this tasty soufflé is to reach its London and Broadway targets, the premiere rendition feels like a karmic theatrical incarnation. On a clear day, you can see Times Square.


by Les Spindle