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Pulp fiction tough talk fails to heat up tepid potboiler

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The best you can expect from the private eye parody Gunmetal Blues is to remember some of its many wisecracking lines and forget the fatally unstylish production.

Director Max Reimer forgot to turn up the heat on the hard-boiled detective story and it hit the Prairie Theatre Exchange stage Thursday night disappointingly undercooked. The lack of distinctive film noir atmosphere and compelling chemistry among the three performers left the opening night audience having to make do with chuckling at the tough talk that sounds like it was torn from the pages of the pulp fiction of Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett.

The set by Vancouver's Conor Moore lacks any visual flair and looks like it was designed for another stage and plopped onto PTE's thrust space. The two main set pieces -- gumshoe Sam Galahad's office and the piano bar of the Red Eye Lounge where he hangs out, drinking too much -- are cramped and look unnecessarily puny. Gunmetal Blues suffers sadly from the lack of that beloved film noir look.

The comedic chamber musical written by Scott Wentworth follows a dense, ultimately thrownaway plot about dreams, illusions and the trouble for those trying to go forward when they are staring in the rear-view mirror. More fun are the clever lyrics of Wentworth's Canadian wife Marion Adler, who performed in Gunmetal Blues at the MTC Warehouse in 1993. Craig Bohmler's music is passable but it doesn't amount to a hill of beans, as Humphrey Bogart, who is heard speaking in a movie soundtrack before the curtain goes up, would say.

Galahad, is a Sam Spade knockoff who is embittered about the blond who disappeared with his heart 10 years ago. His new case also involves a blond (with "a mouth that would have sent Shakespeare thumbing through a thesaurus."), the vanished daughter of a nasty real estate mogul who has turned up dead. There are plenty of people sore about his tearing down a concert hall and erecting a skyscraper "That marred the face of the city like a cut-rate nose job."

Andrew Wheeler, in his crooked fedora, plays the private eye in the classic Bogie tradition, jaded but with a good-humoured edge. When he is questioned about what he does, Galahad deadpans, "Don't let the trench coat fool you, I'm expecting rain."

It's a challenge for any tough guy to break out into song, even if it is about heartbreak and hangovers. He is at his best in the title number -- pulling out a harmonica to embellish his blues is a nice touch -- but his voice is ordinary.

Meghan Gardiner, in her Winnipeg debut, gets to play a bevy of blonds, starting with business executive Laura Vesper, who hires Galahad to look for the vanished good girl Jenny Wasp, who just may be Sam's long-lost love. She also portrays the mysterious bag lady Princess but makes her best impression as Carol Indigo, the doll-faced babe who sings at the Red Eye. Those tresses also are perplexing. Buttoned-up all-businesswoman Laura has her hair down but sultry siren Carol in her red satin dress performs in a pony tail when her platinum locks should be cascading over her face like film femme fatale Veronica Lake.

Gardiner showed off a splendid set of pipes no matter who she was playing but did not knock tipsy Carol's signature number, The Blonde Song, out of the park as expected. It was one of the two-hour whodunit's better tunes -- "Bruised blond, used blond, utterly confused blond" -- but lacked spark, and Gunmetal Blues missed having a showstopper.

Rounding out the imported cast is Gordon Roberts as the Red Eye's resident piano man Buddy Toupee, a man who once had bigger dreams of playing grand piano at grander venues. The moustachioed Roberts supplies the music, some witty banter and literally changes hats to fill in as cab driver, doorman, an Irish cop and palooka who sounds like Marlon Brando's Don Corleone. Roberts' most enjoyable musical moments bookend the intermission: Take a Break followed by Buddy Toupee -- Live, a song he turns into a commercial for his cassette tapes "that are not available in stores."

Galahad gets his girl but the remaining unsolved mystery of Gunmetal Blues is who ordered the hit on this musical.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 6, 2013 G4


Updated on Tuesday, April 9, 2013 at 1:56 PM CDT: Fixes typos

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