Vintage private-eye potboilers meet the swinging big-band era in this jazzy 1989 musical from a solid-gold creative team: librettist Larry Gelbart (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum), composer Cy Coleman (Sweet Charity), and lyricist David Zippel (The Woman in White). The crackerjack trio of director Joe Leonardo, choreographer Kay Cole, and music director Gerald Sternbach lavishes TLC on this rarely revived Tony winner. Stir in a cast of stellar performers, and the recipe is complete. It's an enthralling entertainment, combining the nostalgic pleasures of 1940s film noir with tongue-in-cheek humor and a richly varied score.
Hollywood's ongoing love affair with popular novels is the basis for the show's fanciful Pirandelloesque conceit. As novelist Stine (Stephen Bogardus) adapts his sultry detective novel into a screenplay, we simultaneously see the yarn come to life. The separation between reality and make-believe becomes blurred as the tribulations of Stine's beleaguered gumshoe character Stone (Burke Moses) mirror Stine's marital and career headaches. Making inspired use of Bradley Kaye's stylish bare-bones set and Tom Ruzika's superb lighting, Leonardo lucidly navigates the constant shifts between Stine's real world and the sphere of his creative imagination.
As the womanizing, not-quite-heroic Stine, Bogardus captures the story's potent moral ambiguity, mining the role for its full range of humor and irony. He belts out his big numbers-especially "Funny"--with show--stopping bravado. He's matched by Moses' charismatic characterization as the Sam Spade-like alter ego with a mind of his own. When the two join forces at the first-act climax for a smashing duet, "You're Nothing Without Me," we can't wait to see what happens after intermission.
The rest of the cast is in the same league: Tami Tappan Damiano as Stine's frustrated wife, Gabby, and her fictional counterpart, Bobbi, a lounge singer; Stuart Pankin as Stines' manipulative film producer; Marguerite MacIntyre in a double femme-fatale turn; and Vicki Lewis as two women pining over unappreciative men. She shines in the knockout ballad "You Can Always Count On Me." Expert support comes from Randy Brenner and Herschel Sparber as two comical thugs, Alli Mauzey, Daniel Guzman, Kevin Earley, and a spectacular singing quartet (Teresa Marie Sanchez, Brent Schindele, Joe Souza, and Anne Fraser Thomas). Broadway's terrific homage to the glory days of film noir feels magnificently at home in the city of celluloid dreams.
Presented by Reprise! Broadway's Best at the UCLA Freud Playhouse, Sunset at Hilgard, Westwood. Tue.-Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 2 & 8 p.m., Sun. 2 & 7 p.m. Jan. 25-Feb. 5. (310) 825-2101.