There’s a lot to admire in this extremely well produced new “Blues and Jazz musical” at the Minetta Lane Theatre – THE CITY CLUB – that employs some of the best singers in town featuring a fresh and tuneful score (music and lyrics) by James Compton, Tony de Meur and Tim Brown that are cleverly used as commentary on the book by Glenn M. Stewart that wants to be Raymond Chandler “noir” but which sometimes falls short, somewhere between charcoal and smoky gray.
The City could be New York, Hollywood, Chicago, New Orleans or any place that had a night club with gorgeous gals and handsome guys during the 1930’s where booze and drugs were featured along with the lead singer and tough corrupt cops were on the take to provide protection.
On a striking two tier unit set by Rob Bissinger depicting the City Club and its onstage band with Parker Brown (an exceptional Kenny Brawner) at the piano we meet Chaz (Charles Davenport) the owner of the City Club who dreams of making the new music acceptable and available while trying to escape from under the shadow of his corrupt father who made all of it possible.
Andrew Pandaleon is Chaz and gives a bravura performance. He is young and has a terrific voice, good looks, charm and can command the stage as a fine actor making his Off-Broadway debut.
His lead singer Crystal LaBelle (down to earth Kristen Martin – who sings as beautifully as she looks) is in love with Chaz but his eye doth wander – especially when a new singer arrives – the equally beautiful Madeline Bondurant (Maddy – Ana Hoffman, with a smile that dazzles and reminds one of a young Leslie Uggums) hiding a lot more that she reveals to Chaz.
The cop on the take is Lieutenant – a solid Peter Bradbury who kills as easily as he downs a drink, becomes a partner in the City Club, frames a Governor with some hot photos to get a gambling license and has an Act II reveal that is meant to startle.
There is a trio of back up girls – Rose (Autumn Guzzardi) Lily (Kaitlin Mesh) and Candy (Emily Tyra) that sing, dance and look sexy in the many outstanding costumes designed by David C. Woolard. His gowns for Crystal and Maddy, of which there are quite a few, are sumptuous.
Mitchell Maxwell has directed with an almost cinematic touch. His use of dance is exceptional, featuring some of the most inventive, exciting, sexy and fun choreography by Lorin Latarro. It’s original, slithering hot and thematic – supporting the commentary on the book scenes. Patrick O’Neill is the wonderful lead dancer who doubles as Doc the bartender who is the local drug supplier.
Making his New York debut is up and coming leading man Robert Townsend. Playing a trio of parts – Prince Royale – the male star attraction at the club, Tough – your typical Chandler type shake down guy and the blackmailed Governor he has a presence, penetrating eyes and voice that you will not soon forget.
I discovered Robert and Andrew this past summer in a production of “Sunset Boulevard” at Bellport and am pleased to see them both doing so magnificently in The City Club.
There are some terrific songs and fabulous arrangements but not all of them sound of the same period. That’s also a problem with the dialogue.
In any event enjoy the music – “Saturday Night” “Send Me Your Kiss” “Talking to the Devil” “A Real Good Woman” “You’re Falling in Love with Me” “Too Much Juice” and the amusing “Lollipop Man” and the haunting “Why Did It Have to Be You” sung by Crystal who with her honesty helps ground the reality of the show that strives to be both entertaining and “noir”.
www.TheCityClubBroadway.com Photos: Carol Rosegg
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