The “film noir” genre is not necessarily the first choice of stage producers to become book musical material. I’m having trouble coming up with a candidate, unless one considers Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd”, an English “noir” story set to music, as an example. And that’s a stretch at best.
For audiences of North Coast Repertory Theatre, located in Solana Beach, CA “Gun Metal Blues” is a highly inventive and cleverly written musical satire penned by Scott Wentworth, to the music of Craig Bohmler and Marion Adler. Deftly directed by Andrew Barnicle, aficionados of “noir” will be pleased with the results of the current offering performed by a splendid cast of three all-Equity singer/actors who talk the talk, and walk the walk, all the time being aware of that precarious line between satire, and melodrama.
The current generation of theatre-goers may not remember film noir as well as the older audience, but there was a definite reason as to why it was popular in the 1940’s and 50’s. Noir glorified the individual, the loner, who often stepped over the legal line in an effort to obtain justice. He, yes, it was always a “he” who bucked the establishment and got the job done. Once again, it was rugged individualism; a definite American trait that was celebrated. Secretly, a lot of men vicariously identified with the hard-boiled, hard drinking, tough guy persona who usually won the “dame”. Game, set and match. Checkmate! And then the lights came up and reality set in again. But, it was sweet while it lasted.
The story and plot by Wentworth, replete with so many narrative threads in order to cover every cliché of the genre, is wonderfully abetted by the “on-the nosy” lyrics of Adler, and the mood-inducing music of Bohmler. These two key elements transport the audience back in time to where “civil rights” was an oxymoron expression that had absolutely no meaning at all for the average Joe of the “noir world”.
The on-stage chemistry between Sam the Private Eye, neatly played by Kevin Bailey, and the protean performance by lithe and seductive Sharon Rietkerk, is palpable. She plays four women; all completely different in age, look, and character, and she delivers each femme fatale role in spades. Jeffrey Rockwell the piano player and Greek Chorus/Narrator, as well as five other characters, shines in a performance chock-full of comic timing and witty asides. Rockwell (also the music director for the show), becomes the quintessential lounge piano-player character Buddy Toupee, a character we’ve all met over the years in lounges, bars, and clubs in cities all over the country.
The musical numbers by the creative team are snappy, dreamy, poignant, and so very noir as well as melodic. Musical numbers like “Don’t Know What I Expected” by Buddy, Sam and Laura, “Mansion Hill” by Sam and Buddy, and “The Blonde Song” by Carol are standouts in Act I. Sam’s belting of “Gun Metal Blues” and his haunting rendition of “Jenny” hit their marks in Act II.
The costumes of Alina Bokovikova are spot-on as are the set design and the mood-inducing lighting design by the ever-reliable team of Marty Burnett and Matt Novotny respectively. Also, there are so many clever directorial touches by Andrew Barnicle in this entertaining, satirical, homage to the film noir genre, make sure you catch a performance. The production runs through February 15, 2015.