Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Off Broadway: The City Club

The noir musical, The City Club, has just opened off Broadway at the Minetta Lane Theatre in Greenwich Village and offers something for everyone.  An original blues and jazz score.  Elaborate choreography.  Long legged sexy chorus girls.  A tale of extortion and murder; political and police corruption; booze, drugs and gambling; racial discrimination; love and betrayal; economic and class distinctions; inter-generational conflict; the disclosure of family secrets; incestuous relationships - in sum, everything that one might expect to find in the entire genre of 1940s film noir all rolled into one flashy, splashy production presented as “an original blues and jazz musical about the indisputable intoxication of music.”

And for the most part, it does work.  That is, it does provide two hours of sustained entertainment for those whose goal is just that – simply to be entertained – rather than those seeking something more in the way of a more inspiring, enlightening or original theatrical experience.

Yes, the blues and jazz score is both original and serviceable, some of the lyrics are catchy, and the singers’ voices are not only mellifluous but well amped by an effective audio system.  Yet I don’t think that you’ll find yourself humming any of its tunes as you leave the theatre.  And while the choreography is both ambitious and elaborate - and well executed by very talented dancers - it really is more acrobatic and gymnastic than balletic and I doubt if you will find it memorable either.

The plot centers on Charles “Chaz” Davenport (Andrew Pandaleon), the wealthy son of a politically corrupt father, who seeks to atone for his father’s sins by opening The City Club as a club in which musical talent alone will assure its success, while racial, social and economic distinctions among its performers will be all but ignored.  To that end, he has retained the ex-con Parker Brown (Kenny Brawner), a talented African-American musician, whom he hopes to promote as the lead pianist in his club, as well as Crystal LaBelle (Kristen Martin) who hails from “the other side of the tracks” and the dark skinned Madeline “Maddy” Bondurant (Ana Hoffman) as two of his lead singers – and as two of his many romantic interests.

The club does prove to be successful, but not quite in the manner Chaz had envisioned.  Absinthe and  heroin take their toll on the club’s performers while Chaz’s father’s enemies, both political and personal, seek their revenge. Chaz is threatened with extortion but a Police Lieutenant (Peter Bradbury) comes to his assistance; yet, in accepting the Lieutenant’s aid, Chaz ends up making a deal with the devil.  Murder will out – and betrayal – and the wages of sin.  The play, in effect, devolves into a morality tale between the forces of good and evil and, despite Chaz’s best intentions, the climax is both inevitable and predictable.

The entire cast – singers, dancers and actors alike – all deserve credit for truly professional performances.  But if I were to single out any one individual for accolades, it would be the very talented Kenny Brawner as Parker Brown.  While it is true that to a large degree, his somewhat cartoonish role seems to have been fashioned after that of Sam in the classic film “Casablanca,” certainly he is not to be blamed for that.  And he has truly made the most of the role he was given, both theatrically and musically.

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