Gunmetal Blues aims for light comedy, and scores with good tunes and some decent chuckles.
—Joff Schmidt, theatre reviewer
Parodies of Raymond Chandler-type detective stories are nothing new. Making fun of the over-the-top, hard-bitten writing and stock character types is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel.
But the 1991 musical Gunmetal Blues, currently running at Prairie Theatre Exchange (with a remount of a production by the sadly now-defunct Vancouver Playhouse), gives the genre of detective parodies a fresh coat of paint by giving it the musical treatment in what's billed as a "film noir musical." It's a good idea, but the results are uneven.
The plot is pretty standard detective fiction - tough-as-nails private eye Sam Galahad (Andrew Wheeler) is hired by sassy dame Laura Vesper (Meghan Gardiner) to investigate the disappearance of a wealthy heiress, whose father has died under suspicious circumstances. There are plenty of twists and turns which will entertain mystery fans, all narrated by musical accompanist Buddy Toupée (Gordon Roberts). The three-person cast sing and ham their way through the ensuing caper.
Gordon Roberts in Gunmetal Blues (Bruce Monk)
Scott Wentworth's book doesn't re-invent the wheel, but does offer some comically maudlin dialogue (lines like "I heard the unmistakable tapping of expensive shoes on cheap linoleum" draw laughs). There are moments of sharp wit in Craig Bohmler and Marion Adler's lyrics, and their music is appropriately smoky and slinky.
Wheeler is suitably gruff as Sam. He doesn't have the strongest singing voice in the bunch, but makes up for it by committing himself to the comedy of playing Sam pretty straight, and so earns laughs with lines like "Suddenly, the room smelled of stale cigarette smoke and shattered dreams."
Roberts is a talented piano player with a rich voice, and is amusingly cheesy as Buddy. Given that he has to play through most of the two-hour show, he understandably relies on reading from sheet music - but that proves an unfortunate distraction in some key scenes, especially near the musical's end. He does, though, also land giggles in his supporting roles, including the requisite Irish cop and a Brando-esque gangster.
Gardiner, who plays multiple female roles, delivers her songs with a rich, pretty voice. But she doesn't quite nail the sultry swagger she needs for the femme fatale roles of Vesper, or the torch singer Carol Indigo.
Director Max Reimer's production suffered a bit from too-slow pacing on opening night - though that's a problem that might correct itself as the run goes on. It does, however, feel like it's run out of steam, and laughs, before Buddy sings his last "bon voyage."
Gunmetal Blues aims for light comedy, and scores with good tunes and some decent chuckles. But it's a ways off from hitting the bull's-eye.
Gunmetal Blues runs at Prairie Theatre Exchange until Apr. 21.