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This review by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the April 12, 2006

issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Review: `Gunmetal Blues’

`It was dawn when I left the Red Eye (Lounge). And the rain on my face

was a washrag full of straight pins," is a line that could easily have

come from the whiskey breath of any one of the down and almost out

private eyes like Powell, Mitchum, or Bogart in those cultish film

noirs of the 1940s. But when Sam Galahad (Patrick Quinn), the

hard-drinking embittered gumshoe in "Gunmetal Blues," a wryly

respectful musical homage to the genre now playing at George Street

Playhouse, says, "Don’t let the trench coat fool you, I’m expecting

rain," we know he wants to share with us his own uniquely sardonic

view of life.

Happily book writer Scott Wentworth captures not only the flinty

gritty flavor of noir-ish dialogue but also its hard-boiled oeuvre. If

the easily forgettable, if jazzy, score by Craig Bohmler and Marion

Adler had as much style and pizzazz as the consistently amusing

dialogue, "Gunmetal Blues" would be a real winner. Oddly, the show

remains fun even if it’s a bit of a chore surviving the intrusive and

lusterless songs. Most of them sound out of synch with the lingo and

out of touch with the characters. Bohmler and Adler showed more

appropriate musical savvy setting the old Lunt-Fontanne vehicle "The

Guardsman" by Ferenc Molnar to music as "Enter the Guardsman," which

played the Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey prior to its short run

Off-Broadway in 2000.

It isn’t soon enough that we are back to the tough and tangy and terse

talk – Laura: "It was tragic." Sam: "Death usually is." For the most

part, it’s worth the wait. As it is, it takes all the imaginative

illusions that director David Saint and his designer Michael Anania

can muster up, and all the brio supplied by the three excellent

performers to pull off this lightweight, densely-plotted charade.

There is a cleverness to the show’s construction, however, that

carries us through its otherwise predictable yet purposefully

convoluted course. The familiar echoes of first person singular

narrative, so indelibly linked to pulp fiction and the noir films,

resonate to fine effect. This is particularly true in the case of

Buddy, the Piano Player (Daniel Marcus), who serves as the driver of

the show’s exposition, as he tickles the keys in a small airport

lounge.

Marcus comes close to stealing the spotlight as the lounge lizard who

shamelessly hawks his CD "Buddy Toupee: Live," and invigoratingly puts

over a pair of audience-pleasing patter songs, "Take A Break" (which

cues the intermission), and "The Virtuoso." He also puts on many hats

(literally) as a doorman, cabbie, henchman, switchboard operator, and

funniest of all, an Irish cop. Marcus, who is also the show’s musical

director, allows the three off-stage musicians to take over while he

becomes a conduit through the maze of blondes who are destined to lead

a misguided Sam astray.

When he isn’t stalled in the mire of the lyrics ("Woke up this morning

with a freight train in my head") or being melancholy about the blonde

he had a thing for but who disappeared a decade ago, Quinn affects all

the prerequisite attitudes of a jaded sleuth, except when called upon

to sing songs that tend to neutralize his toughness. During the song

"Gunmetal Blues," he pulls a harmonica out of his trench coat and

plays a few notes for an easy laugh. The plot spins and twists around

the shamus’ search for a missing woman, the daughter of a shady

business man found dead – was it murder or suicide? – in his mansion.

Sam’s investigation finds him drugged and duped by the usual roundup

of suspicious characters, all played by Allison Fraser and Marcus.

Fraser appears to be having lots of fun playing a variety of sexy,

scheming blonde femme fatales, and even a bag lady. Fraser, who had

her reign as the toast of Broadway in "Romance/Romance" (1988) has

been seen to good advantage in two plays at George Street in the past

couple of seasons ("Lend Me a Tenor" and "Lips Together, Teeth

Apart"). She puts a lot of verve into her performing as she peers out

from behind her peek-a-boo hairdo (shades of Veronica Lake). She is at

her most amusing and flamboyant in "Gunmetal Blues" as Carol Indigo, a

tipsy chanteuse. Her reckless stumbling about and just barely being

able to get through "The Blonde Song" is a hoot. What makes it even

funnier (for noir fans), is that she has been poured into an electric

blue strapless gown and long gloves that evoke a memory of Rita

Hayworth in the film "Gilda." Designer David Murin is to be commended

for all of Fraser’s evocative costumes, including a revealing lavender

negligee, and also for the grey double breasted pin-stripe suit worn

by Quinn.

The brilliant Anania, who for years was the resident designer for the

Paper Mill Playhouse, has created a shadowy and fluid turntable world

that spins from a stark office to a dark street corner, a mirrored

mansion to a chrome trimmed lounge, all atmospherically enhanced by

Christopher J. Bailey’s expert lighting. It’s a shame that this

hard-boiled show is stuck with a soft-boiled score. The audience,

however, seemed to lap it all up. To its credit, "Gunmetal Blues,"

which premiered Off-Broadway in 1992, has had more than 100

productions in the United States and Canada. But like Sam says

(referring to Buddy’s LP), "It’s not available in stores."

– Simon Saltzman

"Gunmetal Blues," through April 30, George Street Playhouse, 9

Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick. $32 to $60. 732-246-7717 or

www.GSPonline.org.


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