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Cast hits right notes as dead bodies pile up

Saturday, July 23, 2005
By Nancy Van Valkenburg

Standard-Examiner staff

NOTE: This review is based on a preview performance.

It's 3-for-3 at Utah Musical Theatre. Every production of the 2005 summer season has been a winner.

And that includes "Wicked City Blues" in its world premiere as a fully staged production.

Unlike "Zorro," the unfortunate choice for last season's new work, "Wicked City Blues" has legs. See it now, at Ogden prices, or wait a few years and see it at New York City rates.

"Wicked City Blues," with book, music and lyrics by Norman Thalheimer and story by Cornell Christianson, opens as a live radio show of the 1940s. The special-effects man stands by with shoes to make footstep sounds, rice to make rain, an ironing board for creaking hinges, and a variety of horns for, well, it's probably not polite to say.

A quartet of singers croons sponsors' advertisements and the opening to a radio murder/detective drama, "Wicked City Blues." But a bit into the drama, those same lead actors come out of the studio to portray the story, purposely overacted in film-noir style.

The men wear fedoras and trench coats or smoking jackets. The women wear shoulder-padded, embellished, drape-y dresses. Oh, yeah, and the women are called "dolls" or "dames."

Mickey Morrison, the hard-boiled detective, is up to his eyeballs in trouble. His client is a dame he can't quite trust. Dead bodies keep showing up. And Mickey himself might not survive the show.

At various points, the story is simply read by actors on the studio set, then the action moves to costumed characters and minimal sets at center stage. Sometimes, actors stand to the side, watching the action, even walking in and out of the scene they were previously watching.

It's a lot easier to follow than it sounds.

Jill Anderson was flawless as Charlotte Blane. Sample lyric: "She's only a dame in lipstick and heels, and a dress that reveals all the things it conceals."

Her voice modulated in the same dramatic style as Judy Garland's in "The Wizard of Oz."

Weber State University alumni Justin Ivie was good as John Blane, Charlotte 's missing husband, and riotous as sadistic club owner Lars Vanderbeck. After one of his solos, you'll never think of the phrase "Crazy About You" the same way again.

Perry Lambert was convincing both as the straight-up Lieutenant McNaulty and as not-too-bright psycho hit man Harry the Zipper. Sample lyric about the Zipper: "You're not a dumb gorilla, you're the real magilla."

Don Circle was solid as Morrison, but once in a while, you may find yourself wishing he would turn it up a notch or two to match the overacting of those around him.

The music was fun and lively, with lyrics that were funny, savvy, sly and packed with pop references. The choreography, by Brian Paul Mendoza, was worthy of a Broadway stage and kept taking clever, unexpected turns.

On the sides and top of the stage was a rounded, polished wood-look frame that made the stage look like a 1940s table-top radio, with a design similar to a life-size radio that appeared on stage several times. Jo Winarski was responsible for the ingenious set, which reinforced the idea that the action was both inside and outside of the radio.

Costumes, by Kaoime Mallory, were authentic-looking and elegant.

On preview night, actors were still perfecting their timing and pauses for laugh lines, which is what preview night is for. Even before opening night, this two-hour, 10-minute show was well worth watching.

Do your best to put "Zorro" behind you. "Wicked City Blues" deserves a big audience, and it seems likely that it will be drawing audiences elsewhere for years to come.



WHAT: 'Wicked City Blues'

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. today, Thursday-July 30 and Aug. 6-8.

WHERE: Allred Theater, Browning Center , Weber State University , 3750 Harrison Blvd. , Ogden .

TICKETS: $20/adults, $16/students. Call (800) WSU-TIKS or 626-8500.