Adrift in Macao: Everybody Goes To Rick Shaw's
Be sure and check your brain at the door because you might find yourself laughing your head off at Adrift in Macao, the uproarious new pocket-sized musical Primary Stages has planted into 59E59 Theatres. With a drop-dead funny book and shamefully silly lyrics by Christopher Durang and lethally catchy music by Peter Melnick, Adrift in Macao lovingly parodies the Hollywood film noir classics of the 1940's and 50's that featured hardened dames, shady gentlemen and really dim lighting. Director Sheryl Kaller's quick-moving production is ninety minutes of good fun and bellylaughs delivered by one of the best musical comedy ensembles around.
After an opening pseudo-ballet prelude reminiscent of Guys and Dolls' "Runyunland", we meet Lureena (Rachel de Benedet) a smoldering bundle of classy curves who finds herself "in a foreign city in a slinky dress", as she sings in the first number. We're in 1952 Macao, China and Lureena, alone and broke, gets a job singing in Rick Shaw's nightclub. When in Macao, everybody goes to Rick Shaw's. Will Swenson plays the role with a manic intensity that has him swinging his head into a dramatic pose with virtually every sentence.
Michele Ragusa is an absolute scream as the opium addicted singer Connie ("Did I leave a great big glass pipe in here?") who Lureena knocks out of the spotlight; threatening to steal the show with nearly every entrance, exit and Lucille Ball-ish take. Orville Mendoza is hilarious playing Rick's Chinese employee named Tempura ("Because I have been battered by life."), a role that skewers the racial stereotype of mysterious foreigners. ("I am not inscrutable! I am very scrutable. You can scrute me.") Jonathan Rayson and Elisa van Duyne add to the fun as the "Trenchcoat Chorus", adding to the mix whenever a couple of singer/dancers are needed.
When a darkly brooding Alan Campbell enters as Mitch ("I try not to want much; dry socks, a roof at night, nobody trying to kill me.") it sets into motion a plot filed with romance, intrigue and discussions of existentialism.
There's nothing terribly fresh about Adrift in Macao, but it works, so who cares? Durang's book and lyrics are self-referential and built more on gags than plot and character. Melnick's music mixes dark film scoring with peppy showtune. The exceedingly hummable title song is only topped by a final number that gleefully pounds its memorable tune into our heads, aided by the perky steps of choreographer Christopher Gattelli. The only misstep in the score is a song meant to seem written by a different pair of writers. Unfortunately that fictional pair proves not nearly as talented as Durang and Melnick.
Willa Kim contributes some wildly fun and often garish costumes. Thomas Lynch colors the set in just the right amount of too much red and Jeff Croiter's lights range from showy to shady.
It's musical comedy, folks! Ya gotta love it.
Photos by James Leynse: Top: Rachel de Benedet
Center: Orville Mendoza and Michele Ragusa