Nite Club Confidential Offers Rat Pack-Style Desert Fun at Coachella Valley’s only LGBT Theatre Company
Mixology question: what do you get when you combine Sinatra-style rat pack lounge music with film noir intrigue? Wait, we’re not done. Throw in a melodramatic narrative loop, mix in some high camp, and serve it up in a slender and sexy martini glass, sans olive, under a full desert moon? Well, you get the fun musical spoof NITE CLUB CONFIDENTIAL, of course. And what an intoxicating cocktail it is, too, being served in the Desert’s only LGBT and gay-positive theatre company, The Desert Rose Playhouse.
At the play’s center is our narrator MC, Buck Holden, effectively portrayed by John Ferrare. He’s our Sinatra-wannabe styled in the form of William Holden’s Joe Gillis of SUNSET BOULEVARD, Billy Wilder’s classic Hollywood noir from 1950. In a nutshell, he starts out dead and tells us what got him there in the first place.
It's the 1950s. And Buck “loves the nightlife and he’s gotta boogie.” [OK, wrong decade.] Buck loves the nightclub lounge scene. Problem is, he has limited singing talent. Good thing he has “a great speaking voice,” among other things. ["What does a guy with no talent and a great speaking voice do? Become an agent."] As lady luck would have it, Buck lands a job as part of a singing group called The High Hopes. Slowly, Buck moves up the ranks. His luck is accelerated when he becomes attached to an aging cabaret headliner named Kay Goodman, aka our Norma Desmond, played by desert diva Joey English. And as in classic noir form, when you have Lady Luck you also have her evil twin, Miss-Fortune.
So you see the problem? Buck isn’t satisfied by Kay, he also has eyes for the only female member of The High Hopes, a late-bloomer named Dorothy Flynn, played by Katie Paveo. Like a bouncing ball with his singing partners Mitch (Ryan Dominguez) and Sal (Mark Ziemann), Buck bounces between performing with the fading diva Kay and the rising star Dorothy. [Get the STAR IS BORN reference?] In full-camp melodramatic form, Buck's heart, head, pocket book, and other parts, are torn between the two women. In the end, predictably, the consequences of a woman scorned -- particularly one whose emotional temperament is tested to its limits – closes the show. “Ready for my close-up Mr. DeMille.”
So, the book by Dennis Deal does little to lift the show beyond the predictable. In the end, it becomes merely an excuse to sing those '50s-style torch songs, both from the classic repertoire and those newly composed for the musical spoof. The musical score is a mix of familiar lounge songs by Johnny Mercer, Harold Arlen, Frank Loesser, Sammy Fain, Jimmy Van Huessen, and the likes, combined with new songs written by the musical’s composers Dennis Deal and Albert Evans. In other words, classics like “That Old Black Magic,” “I Thought About You,” “Comment Allez-Vous,” Something’s Gotta Give,” and “Goody Goody” are augmented with new numbers like "He Never Leaves His Love Behind," “Put the Blame on Mamie” (think of Kay Thompson’s “Think Pink” here from FUNNY FACE), and "The Long Goodbye." While the newly-composed songs fit the musical theme and period, none rise to “American songbook” standards as the songs licensed for the musical production.
The casting of Miss Joey English as the fading cabaret diva is inspired. She practically steals the show with her “Kay’s French Kiss” number, channeling all the French and Faux-French divas from Edith Piaf to Eartha Kitt to Josephine Baker, and even from Maurice Chevalier to Jacques Brel. Great fun! Mr. John Ferrare does an effective job as the no-talent hustler, and Mr. Ryan Dominguez as Mitch delivers a delightful turn, particularly in his solo number “Crazy New Words.”
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Mr. Mark Ziemann’s Sal, who looked uncomfortable the entire time on stage. And Miss Katie Paveo’s Dorothy Flynn, while displaying a very nice singing voice, lacked the star presence required of the role, particularly when seen in the glow of Miss English’s campy take on the fading diva. It would have been delicious to see an “Eve” transformed here, in the spirit of ALL ABOUT EVE.
Another major regret with this production is the fact that while live music was effectively provided by Mr. Steven Smith as the conductor and at the piano, Mr. Eric Lindstrom at bass and Mr. Douglas Dean on percussion, they were not readily visible. They were placed deep on stage left, behind curtains, and appeared hidden to a majority to the viewing audience. Too bad. It is this reviewer’s position that whenever live music is provided in a musical -- in contrast to cheap canned music as is often the case with small production companies -- it should be highlighted and presented in an obvious fashion.
Another major flaw was the god-awful costumes for the women in this production provided by Mr. Valentine Hooven. Too bad, again. While the period and story line provided for such great costume potential here, Mr. Hooven simply failed to deliver any skill in this regard. After all, doesn't everyone know that satin is a no-no on stage, particularly when the lights bring out every single flaw in design and in construction?
Nonetheless, Mr. Jim Strait, the company’s Artistic Director, delivers competent staging and direction in this fun production. Live music is a treat anytime, and when a fun, campy, musical spoof is taken on with such skill as in the Desert Rose Playhouse’s production of NITE CLUB CONFIDENTIAL, it is always a treat. Go see it. Performances on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays until February 23, 2014. The Desert Rose Playhouse is located at 69-620 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage, CA 92270. Information at 760-202-3000, or go to http://www.desertroseplayhouse.org/ for dates and ticket information.
Armin's Grade: A
Review by Armin Callo, Contributing Arts & Theatre Editor