In his program notes, Christopher Durang describes his new musical Adrift in Macao as "an entertainment written in a good mood."So no shame on us if this helium balloon floats from our brains the moment we leave the theater. Lightweight laughs are this film noir parody's only goal, and plenty of people will say it succeeds.
I'm not one of them, but there's no halfway point with this type of humor; you either like silly camp or you don't. However, even those of us who prefer our jokes with more sting can appreciate the show's craft and detail.
As they spin their tale of saucy dames and hard luck gents, Durang and composer Peter Melnick expertly tweak the staples of 1940s crime dramas. There's an American gal trying to make it as a singer in a Chinese nightclub, a scruff-faced man trying to catch her eye as he flees his past, and some shady foreigners out to get them both. There's even a dance break that involves Carmen Miranda fruit hats.
More than anything, though, there are over-the-top gags. Take that Chinese nightclub: It's owned by Rick Shaw. And when our heroine Lureena(Rachel de Benedet) talks about her old boyfriend, he just happens to be a French film critic who taught her all about the conventions of film noir. The plot may get ludicrous, but these self-aware jokes encourage us to chuckle at the lunacy instead of deride it.
Even when the writing deserves more groans than guffaws-and that happens more than once-it's hard to stay miffed at a show that moves so quickly. Jokes follow jokes like lightning, and the manic energy is infectious. Plus, director Sheryl Kaller has honed her cast to perfect comic timing, and their commitment to zaniness is endearing.
The performers also meet the demands of the songs, which are more complex than the numbers in most serious shows. The highlight is a singing battle between Lureena and Corinna(Michele Ragusa), the singer who lost her job to this upstart floozy.Trying to win over the club's audience and out-perform her rival, each diva sings a number filled with belted notes and trilling scales. The actors' lovely voices make the scene's ruthless competition even funnier.
Despite these excellent performances though, Adrift in Macao's most valuable player may be choreographer Christopher Gattelli. He not only stages full-on showstoppers, but also fills the production with subtle movements that define its world. In the opening number, for instance, Lureena ends every chorus by sweeping her leg out of the slit in her slinky purple skirt. It's a move Barbara Stanwyck might have used in Double Indemnity, and it clarifies just what kind of hijinks will come.