Play it Cool
nytheatre.com review by Roger Nasser
September 24, 2008
Hollywood, 1950s. A place where people come from their small towns to make it big. A place where things aren't always what they seem. A place where a cop can make money on the side to look the other way. A place where a dame with the voice of a songbird will pack the house. A place where you have to keep up an image of what the studios want you to be. No funny business. No free love. If they think you're "different" you can land in jail or worse. If you want to let your hair down and take it easy, you have to go to "special" bars. Mary's Hideaway, a gay jazz club, is that kind of bar. Mary's Hideaway is where Play It Cool takes place.
Play It Cool is a jazz musical that is extremely entertaining. It has a lot of fun jazz songs and also has a lot of substance. The story is about Mary, a lesbian, opening a jazz club so her girlfriend Lena can sing. Mary has put all her money into Mary's Hideaway so there is a lot riding on the opening. Henry, a cop—also Mary's ex-brother-in-law—keeps an eye out on the club for a cut to make sure that it doesn't get raided. Henry also loves jazz, which is why he is at the club a lot. As Lena is practicing her songs, two men come into the club for a drink. These men are Eddie, a producer with MGM, and Will, a wide-eyed kid trying to make it big. Eddie and Will met at the bus station and came to Mary's Hideaway to get to know each other.
The cast is terrific; they are all strong actors and singers. There are only five performers in the cast but for some reason I thought there were a lot more people in the cast—it was great! Sally Mayes is amazing as Mary. Mayes is a phenomenal actress and singer—it was an honor to be there and hear her sing. She has great presence and timing. Josh Strickland is quite engaging as Will. Strickland has a silky smooth voice and brings a nice innocence to Will. Victoria Cave is remarkable as the conflicted Lena. Cave is a really gifted chanteuse. Cave and Mayes have really good chemistry with one another. Michael McGuirk is a joy to watch as Henry, who also acts as the narrator and gives a really fantastic performance. Daniel Torres is a delight as Eddie. Torres has a beautiful voice and is a talented actor as well. He is very charismatic. The cast works really well together and makes a great ensemble. They are all generous with each other. I could tell that the enjoyed being onstage with each other. I also loved the way that the performers interact with the band. Joseph Baker plays Smokey, the bandleader. Baker is great conducting the other musicians and is also very funny.
The creative team behind Play It Cool has done a great job. The book provided by Martin Casella and Larry Dean Harris is full of smart, snappy dialogue and really has a noir feel. It is funny and poignant at times. Lyricist Mark Winkler does an extraordinary job, the songs are enjoyable and help in the progression of the story. Philip Swann has composed a great jazz score, as have the additional composers. Sharon Rosen has done an awesome job bringing everything together. She's brought forth a production that moves well and is interesting and fun to watch. Play It Cool will hopefully have a life after NYMF. Play It Cool has a great story and great star power behind it and a jazzy score that will have you bopping in your seat.