Thursday, December 11, 2008

Moody noir musical 'Gunmetal Blues' depicts misfortune in surreal world

Moody noir musical 'Gunmetal Blues' depicts misfortune in surreal world

December 09, 2008, 9:49 a.m.
Tucson Citizen

"Gunmetal Blues" rises out of the darkened Invisible Theatre stage as a 1930s nightclub gangster caper that's four parts atmosphere and one part action, with a twist. Armen Dirtadian looks terrific as Sam Galahad, the well-dressed loser who's old enough to know better but has never learned to resist.

Dirtadian is well-known around Tucson for his dashing roles as the broad-shouldered leading man at Gaslight Theatre, but is keeping his personality in the shadows here. He plays a private eye so down on his luck, no client is ever turned away from his tattered office.

Betsy Kruse Craig (another Gaslight star) steps into the IT spotlight as that tall blonde who doesn't care how much trouble Sam gets sucked into. She also plays three other blondes with their own suspicious motives.

Taking on several additional roles is Mike Padilla, who mostly is Buddy Toupee, the tuxedo-clad piano man so cynical he'd be suspicious of Santa Claus. Occasionally Padilla jumps up to play a cop or a cab driver or something, filling out scenes the way he fills out the songs written by Craig Bohmler and Marion Adler.

Scott Wentworth gets the credit for dialogue that adds poetry to the hard-boiled writing style we associate with pulp fiction. Sam can tell the blonde is approaching by "the sound of expensive shoes on cheap linoleum." She is an elegantly groomed executive working in an office tower that is "30 stories of greed under glass."

Not long after asking "Where do they go, the dreams we're always chasing?" Sam remembers how the blonde "was staring at her own face in the mirror, like she was asking for directions."

There are plenty of songs, too, in this musical mystery romance - 17 of them, to be exact. The title track is strongest, "Gunmetal blues, the color of a bruise." Most amusing is "The Blonde Song," describing all the different kinds of blondes in the world, from the everyday bleached blonde to the extremely rare Schopenhauer blonde.

Unfortunately, we never learn exactly what a Schopenhauer blonde might be, but the image is terrific.

Gail Fitzhugh is at the helm as director, piloting this ship of fools through the straits of apprehension. She cleverly avoids the shallows of satire and the shoals of stereotype. Instead, the world of "Gunmetal Blues" becomes a kind of parallel universe where all the women are blonde and all the men wear trench coats because it's always raining.

Craig is effective at giving each of the four females a distinctive personality. The program billing is confusing, though, because she is only listed as The Blonde. Buddy Toupee isn't named, either. He's just identified as The Piano Player.

This lack of identity is part of the fevered dream effect, where you aren't supposed to be exactly sure what is going on. Basically, Sam gets a client, then there is a murder. The case gets complicated and the murder is solved.

Just don't imagine the butler did it. In this smoky world of swirling desperation full of grasping hands and tense agendas, nobody's got a butler. The only high-caliber character in this show is named Smith & Wesson.

Tucson Weekly : Arts : Live From the Red Eye

Tucson Weekly : Arts : Live From the Red Eye

Live From the Red Eye
Blending both humor and sincerity, Invisible Theatre's 'Gunmetal Blues' offers a pleasant surprise

I know what you're thinking, because I thought the same thing--and we're both wrong.
Invisible Theatre is putting on Gunmetal Blues, a musical inspired by the gritty 1930s-'40s private-detective stories of writers like Dashiell Hammet and Raymond Chandler. It rattles off lines like, "The rain on my face was a washrag full of straight pins." You can't really take that seriously unless it's coming straight from Hammet or Chandler. And this is a musical, remember, in which two of the stars are longtime regulars at Gaslight Theatre.

You're thinking: This is just another silly, fluffy spoof.

But you're as wrong as stilettos on a choirboy. Sure, Gunmetal Blues starts off as a send-up of more noir clich├ęs than you can list on a corpse's toe tag, but the writers, actors and director take their characters' emotions seriously. They're using some well-worn conventions to tell us a story about people worth caring about, not laughing at.

The action, we are told, takes place at the Red Eye Lounge, "one of those bars in one of those hotels out by an airport." The time is "one of those nights. Pretty late." The unnamed city is apparently fairly big, but not so big that half of it can't be owned by one man: a millionaire named Adrian Wasp, who has just spent his last night bleeding on his parquet, a bullet cozying up to his frontal lobe. The cops call it suicide, at least in public. Privately, they've got questions. Where, for example, is Wasp's emotionally unstable daughter, Jennifer? She's dropped out of sight.

The next day, detective Sam Galahad hears the tap of expensive shoes on the cheap linoleum leading to his office: The shoes belong to a statuesque blonde called Laura Vesper; she hires Sam to find Jenny on the Q.T. The investigation leads Sam to a bag lady named Princess, and an alcoholic, dangerously blonde lounge singer called Carol Indigo. Sam also has run-ins with an Irish cop and a mob kingpin, and all along the way, he's watched over by Buddy Toupee, the lounge pianist at Sam's favorite hangout, the Red Eye. It's a place where Sam can sit and watch people on their way to someplace else, and imagine that he is, too.

That last detail is one of several that gradually build up to make Gunmetal Blues an effective little study of loneliness and loss. These characters are caught in a perpetual morning after, and they deserve better than that.

The book, by Scott Wentworth, treads a fine balance between the comic and the compassionate, but it's from the songs by Craig Bohmler and Marion Adler that Gunmetal Blues draws its greatest emotional depth. The lyrics are intelligent and artful, and the melodies make real journeys through the minor-mode score instead of just trotting in place as they do in so many contemporary musicals.

Those songs are where the characters really bare their souls (and, if you're paying attention, unwittingly provide clues to the mysteries' solutions). They also give Gaslight veteran Betsy Kruse Craig a chance to prove that she can really act, not just perform. She plays all of the blondes, and each one is a different portrait of longing and heartbreak. She's especially moving in the bag lady's "Loose Change," and in Carol Indigo's "Blonde Song," a catalog of all the different kinds of trouble blondes can be.

Armen Dirtadian plays the damaged and cynical Sam with far more finesse and nuance than he's ever been allowed in his Gaslight characters, and Invisible Theatre can barely contain his huge voice at the climaxes. As a singer, Dirtadian kicks ass so much that they had to import extra ass to accommodate the kicking.

No less impressive is the work of Mike Padilla as Buddy Toupee and the other male characters. Padilla is a fine singer-actor, spending most of the evening accompanying himself and his colleagues at his lounge piano, but he's able to switch from one character to another with no more effort than it takes to change hats.

Director Gail Fitzhugh has found just the right tone for this show, light in the beginning and gradually darkening as Sam wades deeper into his case. The set and lighting design by James Blair and Susan Claassen work in perfect harmony to suggest multiple locales, even while the basic premises remain the Red Eye Lounge.

The recurring refrain in Gunmetal Blues is, "Don't know what I expected; got trouble here for sure." The trouble is all for a good artistic cause; I expected far less than what IT and Gunmetal Blues deliver with cleverness and sincerity.

Gunmetal Bluespresented by Invisible Theatre7:30 p.m., Wednesdays and Thursdays; 8 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays; 3 p.m., Sundays, through Dec. 21Invisible Theatre1400 N. First Ave.$25 to $27882-9721;

Friday, December 5, 2008

'Gunmetal Blues' is fun noir schtick, with tunes | ®

'Gunmetal Blues' is fun noir schtick, with tunes ®

'Gunmetal Blues' is fun noir schtick, with tunes
By Kathleen Allen
Arizona daily star
Tucson, Arizona Published: 12.05.2008

The piano player tickled the ivories while the detective, dressed in a fedora and a shiny gray suit, downed five, no six, fingers of whiskey in one gulp.
The blonde crooned a tune while she made herself at home stretched across the piano. The player looked like he might tickle her.

And so it goes in Invisible Theatre's perfectly played "Gunmetal Blues," a sendup of 1940s detective flicks. Only with music.

Director Gail Fitzhugh struck just the right note with the play — it would be easy to overplay this one and not trust the audience to get the jokes or the references.

She trusted them, as did her cast, Mike Padilla as the piano player Buddy Toupee, Betsy Kruse Craig as the Blonde, and Armen Dirtadian as Sam, the private eye.

Craig and Dirtadian are veterans of The Gaslight Theatre, but this isn't a Gaslight rehash. "Gunmetal Blues" is a bit thicker with plot and not nearly as, well, ridiculous.
But it most definitely has its ridiculous moments.

Like when the piano player became a cab driver, then a crook and then a cop within a minute-long scene. Padilla handled the character switches — done with hats and accents — with a dead serious face and a certain grace. Which made the whole scene that much funnier.

Some of the songs were deliciously over-the-top: "There are blondes / and there are blondes / And it's almost like a joke / You breath them in like perfume / You blow them out like smoke." That one was sung in a sultry voice by lounge singer Carol Indigo, one of Craig's several roles (all of them blondes, of course).

Then there are the poignant songs: "Bring me back my childhood days / The sky when it was blue / Rain when it was pure / And love when it was true." That melancholic little ditty was sung by all three.
This is not brilliant theater. Sometimes it is just a tad too self-conscious, and the plot is cobbled together primarily so that lines like "she had hair like the color of moonlight on topaz" can be dropped and songs can be sung.

But it's a fun play, with some impressive talent — Dirtadian and Craig were in strong voice and gave definition to their characters. And Padilla, who doubled as the show's music director, really impressed with his ability to shape a character even if he had just seconds to do it.
In the end, the biggest mystery in this play is why anyone would pass it up. It's light, fun, and it's got a piano player named Buddy Toupee.

Why would you miss that?

"Gunmetal Blues"
• Presented by: Invisible Theatre.
• Director: Gail Fitzhugh.
• When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 3 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 21.
• Where: Invisible Theatre, 1400 N. First Ave.
• Tickets: $25-$27.
• Reservations/information: 882-9721.

● Contact reporter Kathleen Allen at or 573-4128.