Cloak & Dagger
Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia, has presented a lot of accomplished, incisive work this season. In contrast, its current world premiereCloak & Dagger, a flimsy but fun world premiere musicalis like cotton candy: not especially nourishing but an enjoyable indulgence at the time.
Ed Dixon received a 2011 Helen Hayes Award for his gripping performance as Max in Signature's production of Sunset Boulevard. Now he's back as book writer, composer, and lyricist of this 90-minute romp through the clichés of film noir, working with the same director, Eric Schaeffer. Dixon also appears as one of two shape-shifting performers in a four-member ensemble.
In grimy 1950 New York City, detective Nick Cutter (Doug Carpenter) has hit bottom until Helena (Erin Driscoll), a brassy blonde in a form-fitting red dress, seeks his help. Helena is trying to locate the Golden Venus, a priceless statue she received as a gift from one of her many suitors but is now missing from her apartment. Very soon, the two of them, singly and together, are scrambling from Chinatown to the top of the Empire State Building, from the seediest burlesque house on 42nd Street to the Manhattan docks.
Carpenter is the straightforward, square-jawed private detective who never cracks a smile while lavishing his rich voice on Dixon's pleasant songs. Driscoll brings together her poise, her singing skill, and her way with knockabout comedy to make the most of her performance.
Then there are Dixon and Christopher Bloch, who play all the other roles in a succession of intentionally seedy costumes (by Kathleen Geldard) and wigs (by Anne Nesmith). Dixon aims for the lowest forms of humor with these characters drawn from stereotypes and accent humor (including a moralizing Irish landlady, corpulent Italian mobster, sly Chinese nightclub owner, seedy talent agent, even a nun and a couple of over-the-hill strippers), and he achieves his goal.
Musical director/keyboard player Jenny Cartney and her three musicians bring depth to a score that doesn't have very much on its own.