Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Set mainly in and around a somewhat seedy and rundown piano bar, the musical is a tribute to the hard-boiled detective stories of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, and also an homage to classic 1940s film noir movies. The show is narrated by the bar's pianist Buddy Toupee and focuses on the recent suicide of the very wealthy man Adrian Wasp. Or was Wasp murdered? Enter Detective Sam Galahad, who is hired to try to locate Wasp's daughter Jenny who has disappeared. Did Jenny run away because she is guilty of killing her father? Or was the killer the lounge singer Carol Indigo who had a relationship with Adrian? Add in two other suspects, also blondes like Jenny and Carol, and several signature characters straight out of Sam Spade detective films and you have an intriguing musical that features a vibrant score, witty lyrics, and identifiable characters.
The cast features three theatre professionals who have appeared in numerous productions in the Valley, all of whom are spot-on perfect in bringing these film noir characters to life. David Dickinson is appropriately harried and handsome as the hard-drinking, smooth-talking detective who can't shake the woman he met in his past. Kim Richard navigates her way through about a dozen quick costume and wig changes as all of the blondes in the show, admirably creating enough of a difference in her portrayals of each to make them all unique. Steve Hilderbrand holds the whole show together with his assured, clear and playful narration as Buddy, while also playing a wide range of fun, cameo supporting roles.
All three have great singing voices that do well in navigating around the intricacies and well-written lyrics in Craig Bohmler and Marion Adler's varied score. Scott Wentworth's book does a good job of creating characters that are throwbacks to ones in so many films from the 1940s while hinting at their possible motives and also adding in some fun moments of humor. However, it gets bogged down a bit at the end as the suspects and past relationships become somewhat overly complicated and the ending is a bit too rushed and also comes out of nowhere.
Director Tim Shawver's smart direction derives lovely performances and his staging makes good use of the space. The creative elements are exceptional. Kenneth Anthony's set is simple yet multi-functional and Kara Ramlow's lighting is simply stunning, with washes of light, shadow, and shifts in tone that mirror the different moods of the piece to help give the perfect feeling of, and a lovely tribute to, one of these classic films. Richard Mickey Courtney's costumes are equally good in portraying the elements of these films in evocative designs, especially the ones for Richard. Bohmler's music direction, along with Hilderbrand's piano contributions and a cracker jack trio deliver some exceptional notes, which makes the jazz-infused score sound excellent.
While the last few minutes of Gunmetal Blues may seem to tie up the loose ends too quickly, and there is a slight let down from the smart book and smarter score that came before, A/C Theatre Company's very good cast and perfect creative elements make for a witty and warm, and simply fun show that is a loving tribute, homage and spoof of classic film noir films.
A/C Theatre Company's Gunmetal Blues, through June 3rd, 2018, with performances at Phoenix Theatre's Hardes Little Theatre, 100 E. McDowell, Phoenix AZ. Tickets can be purchased by calling 602-254-2151 or at www.actheatrecompany.org.
Book by Scott Wentworth; Music and Lyrics by Craig Bohmler and Marion Adler