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Is it a musical or just an aneurysm?

Dr. Aaron Shutt is having a bad day. A very bad day.

Eighteen holes of "speed golf" (30 minutes, 46 seconds) at dawn with Dr. McNeil leave him huffing and puffing. He's grumpy, he's frazzled, he has a headache; he wants to quit his job.While he waits in line at a gas station mini-mart, a raucous player piano cranks out "When the red, red robin goes bob, bob, bobbin' " over and over. He yells at the clerk to stop the music, he jerks the piano plug from the wall, then he collapses on the floor.

That ditty becomes a recurring motif on this week's "Chicago Hope" (9 p.m., CBS/Ch. 2), a life-and-death, song-and-dance-filled episode called "Brain Salad Surgery." Lost in a coma, suffering a brain aneurysm, Shutt (Adam Arkin) is dreaming his wild dreams.

As he lies on the operating table, Drs. Austin, Watters, Kronk and Grad (Christine Lahti, Hector Elizondo, Peter Berg and Jayne Brook) bop into view. Dressed in shiny suits and skinny ties, sporting sideburns and slick pompadours, they wail along with Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons' "Walk Like a Man."

His life passes before him: He's a 13-year-old bar mitzvah boy in an improbable scarlet suit and yarmulke singing his haftorah. His old friend Dr. Jeffrey Geiger (Mandy Patinkin) re-appears all in white, crooning "I'll Be There."

Beyond irritation, Shutt shouts: "Stop with the singing. I have never liked your singing. Never!

While early drafts of this week's script were written way back in March, the episode, with a dozen musical segments - including one big production number - was recently completed in seven days, the show's standard schedule.

The ace choreographer Kenny Ortega ("Dirty Dancing") was hired for the dance numbers. It was certainly a challenge.

"All of us were feeling, to a certain degree, self-conscious," said Arkin, who had had to sing and dance before in "Guys and Dolls."

Bill D'Elia, the show's co-executive producer, who directed this episode, said, "Our cast includes everyone from those who've sung and danced on Broadway to those who won't even get up and dance at a wedding." (Count Mark Harmon and Berg in the latter category.)

Inspiration for "Brain Salad Surgery" came from Bob Fosse's 1979 film, "All That Jazz," and from Dennis Potter's quirky mini-series "The Singing Detective."

Tributes to these are sprinkled through the episode. Geiger says jauntily, "A tip of the hat to life, love and all that jazz."

And the brilliant neurosurgeon brought in to save Shutt? Her name is Denise Potter.

*****

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Musical numbers

Tonight's episode of "Chicago Hope" episode contains 10 musical numbers:

- "Luck Be a Lady Tonight" performed by Adam Arkin, Mark Harmon, Vondie Curtis-Hall and Hector Elizondo)

- "When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob Bobbin' Along (performed by Mandy Patinkin)

- "I'll Be There" (performed by Patinkin)

- "Ain't That a Kick in the Head" (voices of Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra)

- "Walk Like A Man" (voices of Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons)

- "Goin' Out of My Head" (voices of The Lettermen)

- "Brand New Key" (voice of Melanie)

- "You and Me Against the World" (voice of Helen Reddy)

- "All Along The Watchtower" (voice of Jimi Hendrix)

- "When I'm on My Journey" (performed by 10-year-old Arkin)

Arkin made a record with the folk group "The Babysitters" and his single is used in the episode, lip synched by the young actor playing Aaron Shutt as a child at his bar mitzvah.