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SANE-SWEPT `SHEIK’ BLOWS IN FROM THE DESERT WITH A CLASSIC COMEDIC CARAVAN

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Listen . . . the desert is calling. The wondrous, magical lure of the endless desert, with its myriad fantasies, its mystical mirages, its fabled tropical oases . . . its melodramatic cliches as numerous as the windblown sands of time.

From the noble strains of the overture of "Lawrence of Arabia" (OK, OK, so there was a lone ragtime piano instead of lush, Dolby orchestral sounds) to the opulent palace of the wicked Wazir, to the raucous noise of the audience, booing and hissing and cheering - the Desert Star Theatrics gang must be at it again.This time around we have "1001 Nights Meets the Keystone Kops."

Well, what we really have is a spoof on the legendary Valentino classic, "The Sheik," an old-fashioned sex-and-sand epic that lends itself to hilarious touches of melodrama.

In one sequence, a "Was the Wazir here?" routine conjured up images of a sort of Arabian "Who's on first?" dialogue.

The plot, as befits a melodrama, is just corny enough to have some fun with. It starts off with a British threesome - Dame Edwina Dimwitty ("The REAL mystery of the desert is why on Earth anyone would want to live here!"), wimpish Percival Rampling (Edwina's nephew), and the fetching young Alice Hastings, who is betrothed to Percy - until she falls under the spell of the dashing hero, Sheik Ali Ben Hassad, the wronged rightful heir to the throne.

These, along with Omir, the Sheik's somewhat nerdish servant, and Ramin, a persistent rug salesman, are the good guys.

On the other side of the sand dune we have the nasty Wazir, his ditzy harem girl, Jasmine, and the chap who earns most of the laughs - Yakmid, the doddering, senile sorcerer.

The DST ensemble, in its third outing at the Playhouse, appears to be getting its act together. The performers are Jason Hughes as the Sheik; Kirk Holshue, the Wazir; Alisa Harris, Alice; James Gooden (who also directs), as Percival; Mary Williams, Jasmine; Eric Jensen, Yakmid; Sharon Kenison, Dame Dimwitty; Gary Winterholler, Omir; and James Darling, Ramin.

The cast has a great time and the audience does, too.

So what if a couple of actors get the giggles when one of them flubs a line, or if the sorcerer has trouble keeping his fake beard attached. A few wisecracks, from the players and the patrons, keep the momentum going and everybody just has fun.

The cast's two notable standouts are Mary Williams, who is reminiscent of Judy Holliday as Billie Dawn in "Born Yesterday," and Eric Jensen, the Wazir's No. 1 wizard, whose comedic timing and delivery are down pat.

Ruth Todd and Lauren Thompson's bright, colorful costumes are right on target and Frank Ackerman's scenery is first-class.

The show's finale - a brief, fast-paced program of olio acts, featuring collegiate songs from the Roaring '20s - spotlighted the ensemble's individual talents and included such favorite songs as a torchy "I Cried for You (Now It's Your Turn to Cry Over Me)," done up in sultry style by Alisa Harris, the men in the group performing the traditional Glee Club medley, "The Whiffenpoof Song" and "The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi," and the three women singing the theme song from "Thoroughly Modern Millie." Mary Williams also did a humorous monologue in which she attempted to explain the whys and wherefores of football.

One man responsible for tying all of this together is Val David Smithson, the show's talented musical director and accompanist.

Smithson and director James Gooden also wrote an original song for "The Sheik," a clever tune entitled "What's a Nice Girl Like You?"