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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
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
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
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