A CurtainUp Review
The City Club
The show opens and closes as Parker Brown (Kenny Brawner) sits down at the piano to sing his earthy blues anthem, "Dark Streets." ("This broken sidewalk forever I roam, ‘cause now these dark, dark streets are my home"). The soulful woes of Parker's harsh world sets the tone of the show with hints of lost love, corrupt police, and murder. , It's all here, and isn't that what you want in your noir genre?
While much of the club's music is buoyant, a problem arises from cramming as many film noir twists as possible into a relatively simple story. Even though this off-Broadway version has been extended from the original Edinburgh production to 2 hours and 20 minutes, the show feels overstuffed and the characters are skimpy. Tucked in between the numerous plot twists are 20 songs by James Compton, Tony De Meur and Tim Brown and dances for the chorus girls with Lorin Latarro's impressive choreography.
Chaz Davenport (Andrew Pandaleon, formerly in off-Broadway's Play It Cool), is a naïve young man with a passion for jazz and the blues. He is the son of a very wealthy crime family with a vicious grasp on the city. With the Davenport family's power, however, come enemies. There is the police lieutenant on the take (Peter Bradbury) and other thugs who are drawn like magnets to the City Club where they threaten Chaz for payoffs.
The club has vulnerabilities, like Parker Brown who has a past that can send him back to prison despite Chaz's reassurances. In addition, Rose, one of the four chorines, is a heroin addict and her dealer, Doc, keeps his stash behind the bar with the often deadly absinthe for the girls and musicians. Quickly, Chaz' naivete begins to harden and the club's early optimism starts to unravel.
Chaz' main support is his love interest and lead singer, Crystal LaBelle, who fought her way from the mean streets. The two have had a falling-out but Crystal tries to persuade him to remember his dream of running a straight club. Chaz, however, still feels he cannot trust her and when the crooked Lieutenant introduces a new girl, sultry voiced Maddy (Ana Hoffman)e, Chaz quickly makes her the lead singer, a decision leading to disaster.
As Parker, Kenny Brawner has a bluesy conversational tone delivery and rangy vocal tone that can bring home an up-tempo tune with energy. The songs are jazz-based and many are generic specialty numbers like "Hot, Sweet and Blonde," a rollicking, "Boogie Woogie Fever." Rose's sweet-and-spicy "Lollypop Man" is something that Bessie Smith might have sung.
Several songs embellish the plot like Crystal's regretting her break with Chaz, "Why Did It Have to Be You." Maddy celebrates Chaz's attraction to her with "You're Falling in Love With Me." Rose, high on heroin, dances erotically as Parker plays, "Can't Get Off This Train." It is not until Act II, however, that many of the songs ignite. Crystal's "It Ain't Right" breaks into a righteous fury while Maddy is heartbreaking with, "The Game of Life."
David C. Woolard outfits the men in black, adding fedoras for the 1930's look, a nice contrast with the showgirls' dazzling costumes in shades of magenta. Rob Bissinger's set design is compact and versatile, with two levels and a stage for the lively City Club Band. Mitchell Maxwell keeps a quick pace for the show but the songs, dances, plot complications and moral clashes become an untenable jumble.
A salute to the design and the cast of fine performers grappling with undeveloped characters. Unfortunately, The City Club comes down to a case of proving that less is more if you want audiences to emotionally connect.
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