Sidetracked by Sharon Michaels directed by Ray A. Rochelle Macha Theatre through February 19
It's the year of The Artist and a return to the era of silent film in all its glamor, glory and art. Yes indeed, it's fun to look back and appreciate the way things were. Now onstage at the Macha Theatre in WeHo Sharon Michaels' Whodonit Sidetracked takes us back to the early 50s and the Golden Era of movies when train travel still held appeal and excitement, and people were genuinely intrigued by movie stars and show biz. Set at Union Station in Los Angeles, Sidetracked pokes fun at those looking to stay forever young, at second-rate PIs, who became more popular than the intriguing clients they served and at Hollywood in general. With a fine cast, Sidetracked is a cleverly written and amusing entertainment.
Think Agatha Christie with a whole lot of tongue-in-cheek dialogue, as Sidetracked explores via a flimsy plot the murder of a tycoon who has stolen the formula for a product called Forever Young and renamed it Ageless. Everyone in the ensemble could have committed the crime...well, almost everyone. There's Henry Berlinger (Bix Barnaba), who created the product, his wife Wanda (Michele Bernath) who has previously unrevealed lascivious dealings with Dr. Joseph Feinstein - the victim, Brett Hart (David P. Johnson), the attractive actor/model who is the coverboy for Ageless - and whose contract has been unexpectedly terminated, his attractive agent Veronica Lacey (Sondra Currie), who invested far too much money in Feinstein's project without return. Those less likely suspects include Dawn Lovett (Jamison Lingle), the supposed daughter of Feinstein, and Julio Jorge Juarez (Carlos Ciurlizza), the overfriendly dancing bartender at the Union Station Cafe, who understandably has nothing to do with the victim or the investigation. Place movie-fanatic detective Richard Doyle (James Gleason), who has been approached at the top by Lovett to find her father, in charge of the investigation and there's even more fun with a cute audience opinion poll segment thrown in.
If you were a fan of Peter Falk's Columbo or Murder She Wrote, you will delight in Sidetracked. Its only fault as sheer entertainment is the direction, which needs much more camp and style. Some actors are playing it far too realistically, whereas a more over-the-top delivery with much faster pacing might serve the piece better. That said, the acting is very good, with Gleason, Bernath and Ciurlizza making their comedic moments count. Gleason, poker-faced and as blase as all get out, sets the right tone from the start, and Bernath, with her unique look, voice and delivery is a consistent scene stealer. Ciurlizza, with a slight lisp and effervescent cheery personality is irresistible. Barnaba is at his best essaying Berlinger's neurotic frustrations, and Lingle is simply lovely as the ingenue...oops, musn't give too much away! Johnson as Hart could be even more egotistical than he plays it and Currie's sexy Lacey is underplayed. She's a strong actress who needs to give it all she's got! Ray A. Rochells as done an excellent job creating an efficiently modest set with ample touches of class and Rikki Lugo/Diana Martin's period costumes serve effectively.
Go for the sheer enjoyment of Sidetracked. It's a light, fluffy entertainment that provides the perfect distraction from our world-weary times.