Sally Mayes, consummate singer, gets to wear the pants and strut her inner jazz baby, riffing and skatting with the best of them in “Play It Cool” which has just opened at the Acorn Theatre on Theatre Row. It is a not-to-be-missed performance.
Ms. Mayes is giving a fantastic, full dimensional portrayal of a “Butch Dyke – that no one wants to see sing.” She is the owner of Mary’s Hideaway – an underground gay jazz club off Sunset, Hollywood, circa 1953. A “noir” period for gays and lesbians when you had to hide your true sexuality to get ahead and not be arrested or sent away to some mental institution. She has put all that she owns on the line to forward the career of her lover and protégé Lena (Robyn Hurder) looking like a combination of Monroe and Betty Grable.
The upbeat, jazzy, original and tuneful score (Lyrics – Mark Winkler) and (Music mostly by Phillip Swann with some added music by Jim Andron, Michael Cruz, Marilyn Harris, Emilio Palame and Larry Steelman) is just plain terrific.
From the moment the three piece combo takes stage: David Libby (piano) Dan Fabricatore (bass) and Dan Gross (drums) giving us a taste of the score to follow you will immediately cast all your cares away and be transported to a land of jazz ecstasy.
With a book by Martin Casella & Larry Dean Harris that teeters between seriousness and high camp – the plot – a 50ish “Noir Hollywood” take on the comings and goings on at Mary’s Hideaway (a unit set nicely evocative by Thomas A. Walsh) is less than substantial and sometimes gets in the way of the glorious score which is beautifully interpreted by the cast of five and on stage combo.
Henry (a superb and sexy Michael F. McGuirk), a married cop on the take – who protects Mary’s Hideaway from being raided for a price because he loves jazz and has a “secret” is our “Noir Narrator” and hits just the right tone.
Into the bar arrives Eddie (Chris Hoch) a smarmy MGM talent scout who has met the new boy in town – would be singer jail bait Will (Michael Buchanan) in a men’s room and has brought him to the club so that they can get to know each other better.
The paper thin plot thickens with revelations that shouldn’t surprise many but nonetheless are very entertaining when the actors are singing the noteworthy harmonies and spot on arrangements by Joe Baker.
Director Sharon Rosen hasn’t quite decided on the overall tone of the show with Act II being decidedly more serious, that again switches gears, reverting back to being “Noir”.
Some sprightly dance routines by Marc Kimelman add to this well intentioned albeit uneven entertainment.
Through Oct. 9th. www.playitcoolmusical.com Photo: Joan Marcus
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