I wanted to like The City Club. The press releases describing the show as a jazz/blues musical set in 1930s Chicago sure made it sound intriguing. But the opening-night performance I witnessed was difficult to endure. Director Mitchell Maxwell gave us an evening that plodded along, with most of the company over-acting melodramatically in a way that was almost embarrassing. I wished the show had had smarter, wiser, more up-to-date direction. With appealing songs by James Compton, Tony De Meur and Tim Brown—like “Hot, Sweet and Blonde” and “Too Much Juice”—the basic concept (by writer Glenn M. Stewart) is solid. But Mitchell has made the show feel like a very bad and very dated movie. These aren't human beings we’re meeting; they’re stock characters. If a gangster walks into the club, we know he’s a gangster because his costume, posture and way of talking seem like a caricature of so many early movie gangsters. People periodically get shot in this nightclub, people periodically use drugs in this nightclub—and it just feels old, tired, and “off.” Blues pianist/vocalist Kenny Brawner is the standout; he gives the show some much-needed honesty, offering genuine emotion and musicality. Mike Migliore’s sax contributions are first-rate, too; I wish they could have had a second sax, to better carry off some of the jump-blues music. And Lorin Latarro’s intense choreography (including a striking apache dance) is a treat.
(Pictured: Autumn Guzzardi, Kaitlin Mesh, Kristen Martin; photo by Carol Rosegg)
April 23, 2012