Thursday, September 4, 2003

Noir spoof 'Nite Club' stumbles in style

Theater review

By Jackie Demaline
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Nite Club Confidential, an affectionate musical spoof of all things noir in swank, post-WWII cafe settings, is the very definition of style over substance.

So there's a real problem when the show bumbles around the style, which is the case in Ensemble Theatre's season opener.

It should be as straightforward as a tough-talking, gun-toting, black-and-white drama, the kind you can only find these days late at night on cable: down-on-her-luck diva Kay Goodman (Pamela Myers) falls for ambitious heel Buck (Andrew Burkhart) while he plays her against witchy rising star Dorothy (a. Beth Harris). Calling Barbara Stanwyck.

What should be a delightfully tawdry tale is held together by more than two dozen musical interludes, both original songs cleverly written in period style and Hit Parade classics like "I Love Paris" and "That Old Black Magic."

While Nite Club suffers from not having enough plot to run the course of the show, when it's performed with high style, and when the actors embrace its silliness and play it for real, it can be potent fun.

Scenic designer Brian Mehring certainly gets it with a stage worthy of the Stork Club, resplendent with pink accents. And with one notable exception (detailed below), Reba Senske's fashion parade of monochromatic costumes is a big part of the fun.

Musical director Scot Woolley and the combo could get their next gig at The Rainbow Room. Woolley has done an impressive job of getting the performers to vocalize in the style of a half-century ago (although the quartet comprised of Burkhart, Harris, Steven Bishop and Kevin Sketch need to keep working on their harmonies.)

The trimmings are in place, but Nite Club needs both a lighter touch and more firm hand than it gets from director D. Lynn Meyers. It needs more sophistication, not to mention a hint of that old sexual combustion that drove noir bad girls and boys.

There's a kind of running joke, with Dorothy every now and again shouting at Buck, "What is it between you (and Kay?)" Unfortunately, the answer in this production is "Nothing."

You know there's something desperately wrong when we're this far into a review and I'm not raving about Cincinnati's reigning musical star.

But the marvelous Myers is the victim of bad direction and unflattering costuming (Reba Senske, how could you?) in the first act of Nite Club (and really scary makeup throughout.)

She falls back on a shtick-driven performance that gets laughs, but you realize just how unsatisfying it all is when Myers connects with Kay in the second act (which on opening night was the better-rehearsed).

She is a knockout as a woman scorned, but by then the show has lost its momentum.

Burkhart makes a good louse, but he's not as charismatic as he's been in past performances at Ensemble, and again, he's a big part of the non-combustion problem.

That leaves Harris to deliver the most heartfelt, dimensional performance - something she manages to do on a regular basis at ETC, even when the spotlight is shining on someone else.

Nite Club Confidential, through Sept. 21, Ensemble Theatre, 421-3555.

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