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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

Gunmetal Blues: Cabaret Style Musical
Satirizes Film Noir

Gunmetal Blues
Daniel Marcus and
Patrick Quinn

Gunmetal Blues is set in the Red Eye Lounge, a dusty little boîte in a crummy hotel on the strip by the airport. Even when its story takes us elsewhere, we still remain in the lounge with omnipresent lounge pianist-singer Buddy Toupee tickling the ivories, both narrating and commenting on the action in song, and scurrying about the stage to deliciously play any number of subsidiary characters. And herein lies the rub. Despite an excellent production and much to enjoy in the clever music and libretto, Gunmetal Blues is essentially a clever cabaret show stretched to fill two acts on the theatre stage. As such, it is simply too slight to be fully satisfying.

The territory here is the sub-species of film noir depicting the battered, cynical and world-weary dime novel private eye who has to navigate the treacherous shoals created by a beautiful, deceitful and manipulative dame. There are three players, who are listed in the program as The Private Eye (Patrick Quinn), The Blonde (Alison Fraser) and The Piano Player (Daniel Marcus). Our private eye is Sam Galahad. His case has him trying to find a deceased millionaire’s missing blonde daughter. Galahad encounters three other blondes along the way, namely, the deceased’s executive assistant, his chanteuse girlfriend, and a bag lady whom he evicted from her apartment. The mystery is outlandish in the grand tradition of its progenitors. However, the masters of the genre made us believe in their characters and care about their endeavors. There is no attempt here to have us suspend disbelief. The characters and the story are written as throwaways whose sole purpose is to provide a framework for the satirization.

Most enjoyable is the manner in which book writer Scott Wentworth repeatedly nails the hard boiled style of the prototypical Dashiell Hammet/ Raymond Chandler private dick and its inherent humor. When a classy type executive assistant seeks Sam’s services, he sasses her. This causes her to ask him, “are you always so charming with your clients?”. To which Sam responds, “You’ll have to forgive me, Miss Vesper. My usual clientele isn’t exactly the executive type. They’re more the stagger-into-your-office-and-bleed-on-your-carpet type.” Occasionally Wentworth tosses in a quick off-center phrase to goose the humor. For example, when he comes to after being cold cocked from behind, Sam narrates, “I woke up in the gutter. That was all right.. I’d been there before. Only this time I had company.”

The jazzy music (music and lyrics are by Craig Bohmler and Marion Adler) is tuneful and appealing. What distinguishes it is that it sounds as if it comes directly from the soundtracks of the prototype films being lampooned. The lyrics are felicitous, moving along the story and blending stylistically with the dialogue.

Alison Fraser plays all four incarnations of The Blonde and seems to be having quite a good time as she switches from one role to another instantly in the second act. Fraser is comically steamy as the chanteuse performing “The Blonde Song.” Patrick Quinn is in strong voice as Sam Galahad. His smooth, evocative rendition of the moody, tongue in cheek title song is a delight to hear. Best of all is pianist and musical director Daniel Marcus. Whether playing Buddy Toupee or any of seven small roles, Marcus has a charming comedic style and terrific timing which he mines for many laughs. One highlight for Marcus is the second act opening, a kind of entr’acte in which Buddy reprises songs from the first act (and previews songs from the second) as he musically urges us to buy his tape, Buddy Toupee – Live, “not available in stores”.

Director David Saint has created a black and white noirish look on the George Street stage with considerable help from his creative team. From the stylish revolving set by Michael Anania, all in black, grey, silver and glass, to the moody lighting effects of Christopher J. Bailey to the mostly black and white costumes of David Murin, all the design work is top notch. I’d like to see this team work on the more substantial City of Angels.

Before the intermission, Buddy Toupee musically advises the audience to “take a break/ have a drink.” Well, if a tighter Gunmetal Blues were being presented at the Red Eye Lounge or some such place, we would already be sipping a cocktail (with, possibly one or two more under our belts); there would be no need for an intermission. And, for an hour or so, all would be right with the world.

Gunmetal Blues continues performances (Eves: Tues.-Sat. 8 PM; Sun. 7 PM (except 4/30) / Mats. Thurs, (4/13 & 4/27) Sat. (except 4/15) & Sun. 2 PM) through April 30, 2006 at the George Street Playhouse, 9 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, NJ 08901. Box Office: 732-246-7717; online: www.GSPonline.org/.

Gunmetal Blues book by Scott Wentworth; music and lyrics by Craig Bohmler and Marion Adler; directed by David Saint

Cast
The Piano Player…………..Daniel Marcus
The Blonde………………….Alison Fraser
The Private Eye……………Patrick Quinn


Photo: T. Charles Erickson


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- Bob Rendell



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