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Strong Ensemble Delivers Powerful 'Incident at Vichy' 
By Travis Michael Holder, BackStage West

Spoofing film noir is hardly a new concept. The standard Chandler-esque cliche-spouting detective reduced to taking whatever job the uptown doll-face babe entering his seedy office proposes is a familiar scenario--how many times has a leggy moll waved a few bills around and crossed her seamed stockings in the direction of a rumpled private dick down on his luck? But now this refreshingly charming musical dessert makes it all new again with a whimsical book by Scott Wentworth and one of the most snazzy, infectious musical scores to hit the boards in years. Laguna Beach Playhouse Artistic Director Andrew Barnicle, who played the detective himself in his theatre's Southern California premiere of this piece, guides the Los Angeles debut with tongue placed firmly in cheek, a twinkle in his eye, and a definite knack for playing up every chance for outrageous humor while keeping his actors just under the radar from going too far. Luckily for this production, the sometimes Brechtian, sometimes Sondheim-esque score, by Craig Bohmler and Marion Adler, is expertly sung by a trio of gifted performers, especially Kevin Symons, whose impeccable phrasing and feel for the era is clear both in the haunting ballad "Jenny" and the bluesy title number. Symons is also in top form playing the world-weary gumshoe with just the right mix of deadpanned retorts and precision comic timing. Susan Wood complements him perfectly as several different characters--or are they?--and is especially entertaining as a blowsy lounge singer who ends her song sprawled like a human pretzel across the piano. Jeffrey Rockwell not only doubles as the Red Eye Lounge's resident piano player and the story's narrator but also serves as the show's music director and occasionally steps out from behind the keyboards to play a series of minor characters, each one progressively more comical than the last. From limning Max Headroom at the piano to channeling Red Skelton in his cameo characterizations, Rockwell is hilarious throughout. Gunmetal Blues at first seems a little lost in the Colony's midsize space, surely originally intended to be presented in a more intimate setting. But Barnicle and his crack team of players and designers overcome the obstacle immediately. It is a testament to the talents of the actors to hold this show as if performing in a more intimate setting, despite the annoying microphones wired down their backs, which surprisingly never distract in this piece. The actors are aided immensely by John Berger's simple cabaret set design, which echoes the colors and the sleekness of the Colony's auditorium, and by Paulie Jenkins' rich, shadowy lighting, complete with the obligatory Venetian-blind illusion. To Jenkins' credit, the cliche blinking red "Hotel" sign outside a window never materializes. If you're looking for an evening to challenge your intelligence and discover ways to save the planet, go see Homebody/Kabul. If you want to have a load of laughs and leave the theatre with a smile, humming the contagious title tune of a musical just as you did in the old days, the Colony is the place.
 
 

Copyright 2003 VNU eMedia (Back Stage West) 
Reprinted by Permission 
Gunmetal Blues at the Colony Theatre