Murder Mystery Blues
nytheatre.com review by Lisa Ferber
November 26, 2006
If you love Woody Allen's comic-noir short stories and come to this show for rapid-fire dialogue narrated by a nebbishy Allen-type with dames who sound like Lauren Bacall, this is not the event for you. If, however, you are willing to get Woody Allen out of your mind and accept this as an evening of some laugh-producing skits and songs, you're in for a good time.
Janey Clarke has adapted and directed a series of Allen short stories, provided some additional dialogue, and included songs with lyrics by herself and music by Warren Wills.
Though it has a very good script and talented cast, Murder Mystery Blues would benefit from picking up the pace. It was not noticeably slow, but for this type of sharp Allen dialogue to work, in-your-face delivery would deliver considerably more punch. The problem, as I saw it, is that first off there is no self-deprecating Allen-esque character as host. And I can't help it, that's what I was expecting. I just kept wanting detective Kaiser Lupowitz to sound nervous and awkward, which to my mind is what makes his delivery of sexy '40s dialogue so funny. Instead, Alex Haven does a very good job of being cool and confident, the way a detective really would be...if he weren't Woody Allen. And this is fine, but Allen fans might come in expecting the schnook. The women in the show don't seem to be affecting '40s film style accents even though their clothes are of the era, save for the vivacious Stephanie Dodd. The bubbly, giving-it-her-all Dodd perfectly masters the ditzy and lively secretary with a sparkling voice and manner as she plays the romantic secretary secretly pining for her boss, Lupowitz. It seems this gal has studied the form and perfectly knows how to bust it out onstage.
The script contains so many brilliant nuggets. For example, there's "The Whore of Mensa," in which men pay to have sexless "intellectual affairs" with smart girls. (I had just been re-reading this story the day before for the umpteenth time and it was still funny onstage.) Here's one of the gals telling Lupowitz what they offer: "For 50 bucks, you can relate without getting close. For a hundred, a girl can lend you her Bartok records, have dinner, and then let you watch while she has an anxiety attack." There's a punchline to this speech but I just can't give it away because it's too good. Here's another funny, from "Fine Times: An Oral Memoir": "I got this crush on a showgirl named Kelly Swain. I'm so crazy about her I can't keep my mind on baseball and last week I twice greased my body, thinking I was a famous channel swimmer....I lied and told her I'd stop baseball and give a course on Wittgenstein at Harvard, but I think she suspects something."
Many of the songs do not feel humorous and therefore don't add too much to the overall feel or line of the show. In particular, there's the too-long "Only a Stream," which is uninteresting save for the particular lighting in this scene, which beautifully sets off the metallic streamers in the background (by lighting and set designer Maruti Evans). Which isn't to say that the songs aren't appealing on their own: the joyous end number "Listen, Closer" got hands a-clappin' and "Blue December Moon" is incredibly pretty. I feel like the songs really could be an entirely separate evening of performance.
I'm a huge Woody Allen and comic-noir fan and I wanted to come away from this raving, but instead came away just pleasantly entertained.