Also see Scott's review of Show Boat
The Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati (ETC) typically presents two musicals each year in addition to cutting edge plays. Past musicals have included Violet, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and Cowgirls. ETC kicks off their 2003-2004 season with Nite Club Confidential, a noir musical spoof starring the town's most beloved singer/actress.
Nite Club Confidential is the story of a Sinatra wannabe named Buck, who serves as the narrator throughout the show. It's the 1950s, and Buck loves New York's nightclub scene. He lands a job as part of a lower-tier singing group called The High Hopes. Buck moves up the ranks when he becomes attached to an aging headliner named Kay Goodman. However, Buck also has eyes for the only female member of The High Hopes, a late bloomer named Dorothy. Buck, along with his singing partners Sal and Mitch, spends the next few years bouncing between performing with the fading diva Kay and the rising star Dorothy. Buck's heart is likewise torn between the two women, and the show's climax demonstrates the consequences of a woman scorned.
The score for Nite Club Confidential is a mix of classy songs by the likes of Cole Porter and Johnny Mercer, along with new songs skillfully written by Dennis Deal and Albert Evans in the appropriate period style. "I Love Paris" and "That Old Black Magic" are complemented by fine new tunes such as "He Never Leaves His Love Behind" and "The Long Goodbye." While all of the songs fit the theme and are strong in melody, none of them really stir up any level of excitement.
Unfortunately, the book does little to lift the show beyond an excuse to sing those '50s style torch songs. The plot is driven solely by the narration supplied for each song, and character development is in short supply. The story by Dennis Deal is funny and witty at times but doesn't create much emotional depth or empathy. The movie Sunset Boulevard is mentioned several times in the show, and Nite Club Confidential seems throughout to be a poor man's version of that classic film (and its musical counterpart) in style and plot.
Pamela Myers has been the darling of the Cincinnati theater scene for years. Having garnered a Tony nomination for Company more than thirty years ago, any project with her as the lead gets plenty of attention in the Queen City. Ms. Myers possesses a voice that can be characterized as distinctive, powerful, textured, brassy, and even Mermanesque, and she does these torch songs proper justice. This Broadway veteran also has the stage presence and comic timing necessary for Kay Goodman. As Buck, Andrew Burkhart supplies sufficient charm and smooth crooner vocals. As usual, ETC regular a. Beth Harris impresses with wonderful singing and a well-rounded performance as Dorothy. Kevin Sketch (Mitch) and Steven Bishop (Sal) do fine in their supporting roles as well.
Scott Wooley (keyboard), Matt Frazer (percussion), and Matthew Anderson (bass) swing in time and provide excellent musicianship in support of the onstage singers.
Director D. Lynn Meyers does well with staging the piece, but the tone of the show isn't really clear. Her somewhat restrained direction can't seem to decide between emphasizing the camp factor or playing it straight (but still for laughs, as in City of Angels). Either option would have worked better than the unsettled mixture of the two choices. The choreography by DeeAnne Bryll is fun, lively, and period appropriate.
Set designer Brian Mehring has recreated a sparkling deco inspired 1950s nightclub perfect for the show. His lighting also has several wonderful moments. Reba Senske's costumes are stylish, fun, and romantic.
Nite Club Confidential is given a respectable production by The Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati thanks in large part to its strong cast and design. Though a clearer vision might have helped, the failure of the piece to dazzle has much more to do with the absence of any dramatic or musical spark. ETC presents the show through September 21, 2003. For tickets, please call (513) 421-3555.