Monday, November 5, 2012


JTC's Gunmetal Blues a sharp, funny musical homage to film noir

Say, pal, you got a yen for film noir? (And I mean everything from The Maltese Falcon to Detour, to Chinatown.) Then you should beat it over to Gunmetal Blues, the Jewel Theatre Company's fast, frisky, and funny musical homage to the genre, playing for two more weeks at the Center Stage in downtown Santa Cruz.

It's a simple story about a world-weary gumshoe, a mysterious dame, and, um, a guy in a tux playing piano throughout, a one-man Greek chorus commenting on the action. The private eye investigates a murder case involving a veritable sea of blondes, in a milieu bursting with deliciously crisp tough-guy dialogue and dynamic songs—jazzy, blues, anthems—that keep the story percolating along.

It's a three-person show, and the performers are terrific. Christopher Reber anchors the story as detective Sam Galahad, a rumpled knight in a trenchcoat with a pesky addiction to ferreting out the truth. Reber's Sam is a soulful Everyman who  can sell a song as persuasively as he bites off a line like, "Suddenly the room smelled of stale perfume and shattered dreams."

Lee Ann Payne is excellent as the story's four blondes—an ingenue, a classy femme fatale, a nightclub floozy in a spangled red dress, and a bag lady. With her powerhouse singing voice, Payne makes the most of each incarnation, from the chanteuse's wry and clever "The Blonde Song," to the bag lady's poignant ballad.

But Brent Schindele is the real scene-stealer. As piano-playing lounge act, Buddy Toupee, not only does he provide onstage accompaniment for the show's entire song cycle, along with various incidental music cues throughout, he also springs off the piano bench to double for whatever other male characters the story requires—a half-bright doorman, an Irish cop, a gangster, a chauffeur—all with appropriate accents.

Did I mention that he also sings? Schindele has a big, confident voice, whether jauntily hawking his "Buddy Toupee—Live!" CD between acts, or harmonizing with the others in various intricate duets. The two big numbers where all three players sing together, "Don't Know What I Expected," and especially  "Childhood Days," are show-stoppers.

Gunmetal Blues was written by Scott Wentworth (acclaimed for his recent work with Shakespeare Santa Cruz), with music by Craig Bohmler, and lyrics by Marion Adler; they put the project together back when all three were working with Stratford Shakespeare Company in Ontario, Canada, as a vehicle for themselves. It must be as much fun to perform as it is to watch. My favorite lines of hard-boiled dialogue (scribbled in the dark) are, "(She had) a mouth that would have sent Shakespeare thumbing through a Thesaurus," and the instant classic, "I checked into a hotel where the desk clerk is blind and you sign your name in invisible ink."

The JTC production, crisply paced by director Tom Gough, makes fluid use of Ron Gasparinetti's spare set—a grand piano in one corner, defining the Red Eye Lounge, and a table and a couple of chairs opposite, for Sam's office and every other interior space. And kudos to Mark Hopkins' lighting design, especially the kaleidoscope of pulsating colors when Sam gets sapped from behind, or someone slips him a mickey.

Gunmetal Blues only plays eight more performances, Thursdays—Sundays through November 18, so don't miss out! Click here for tickets and info.

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