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The City Club

This new musical set in a jazz club is sunk by its witless, unoriginal script.

Kenny Brawner and Kristen Martin
in The City Club
(© Carol Rosegg)
There's nothing so wrong with The City Club, now at Minetta Lane Theatre under Mitchell Maxwell's direction, that couldn't be cured with a whole new book.

Author Glenn M. Stewart is clearly a major fan of film noir; however, he proves that parroting isn't exactly the highest form of praise with his would-be-lurid script, which uneasily mixes elements of Chinatown and Memphis.

The story, such as it is, focuses on Chaz Davenport (Andrew Pandaleone, who gets to work his rich, robust voice to good effect), a so-called golden boy who opens this squeaky-clean "square joint" to compensate for his forebears' corruption. Chaz quickly finds, though, that keeping the bad elements out of his place is easier said than done.

In addition to the witless book, another problem with this show is that the musical selections from composer/lyricists James Compton, Tony De Meur, and Tim Brown -- some of which are admittedly quite good -- don't let us know when or where we are. They range from basic blues to Andrews Sisters-type tight harmonies, boogie woogie, and jitterbug. There's even an opening song, "Hot, Sweet & Blonde," that sounds an awful lot like "Shake, Rattle, and Roll."

Offering a respite from this time-traveling pastiche, Kenny Brawner serves as a kind of everyman observer, playing some fine loose-fingered jazz piano while singing low-down blues. He comes across as an authentic emissary from the jazz-club tradition, and one often wishes to be hearing an entire evening of his music rather than the mishmash on stage.

Fortunately, several cast members almost succeed in overcoming the show's faux-noir clichés. With his chiseled cheekbones and gritty tough-guy delivery, Peter Bradbury makes a tailor-made cop on the take, while as the dark-skinned singer Madelaine Bondurant -- who turns out to be more than a mere canary -- Ana Hoffman smolders.

Only Kristen Martin as Chaz's girlfriend and star chanteuse, Crystal LaBelle, truly disappoints. While she is supposed to come from the wrong side of the tracks, you'd never guess, because Martin elocutes like a slumming Deborah Kerr. She also lacks the faintest feel for blues, riding the downbeat and striving in vain to come off as a good-time girl.

Clearly a lot of expense and expertise have gone into this rather lavish production. Rob Bissinger has designed a credible deco-ish nightclub set. David C. Woolard has laid in the fedoras and decked out the chorines. And choreographer Lorin Latarro has schooled the latter cuties in some convincingly high-handed Cotton Club moves. But most of their efforts seem wasted, simply because the core text lacks the least scintilla of originality.