You suspect that you’re in for a wild evening at the theater when Christopher Durang’s name is on the program as playwright, librettist, lyricist or all of the above, as is the case in MusicalFare’s latest offering, the much-acclaimed but seldom-seen film noir musical “Adrift in Macao.” But you know for sure when, scarcely five minutes into the plot, shady nightclub owner and part-time diamond smuggler Rick Shaw tells the slinky Lureena, a wanna-be chanteuse, “I’ll see you around.” Lureena responds, “Well, it’s a small cast.”
Durang has been unpredictable and controversial for years. Back in the day, he wrote some acidly hilarious remembrances of growing up Catholic – “Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You” and “The Greatest Musical Ever Sung,” to which he added irreverent songs such as “Everything’s Coming Up Moses” – works that spawned zealots to march and protest and bishoprics to howl. Durang’s plays concerning psychological counseling and therapy remain comedy classics. A favorite Durang target is literary giant Anton Chekhov. Witness a recent spoof of “The Cherry Orchard” called “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.” Now 65, the man still churns out craziness.
At MusicalFare’s impressive and utilitarian renovated digs, Durang is ably joined by composer Peter Melnick (yet another grandson of the famed Richard Rodgers) on the silly and witty, pun-laden and playful, spirited and energized “Macao.” Both book and music tell a sinister tale of skulking, trench-coated characters; tempting, alluring women with pasts (think Barbara Stanwyck, Gene Tierney of the 1940s); opiates; and a stereotypical, “inscrutable” Oriental, the obsequious Tempura. He’s at the heart of every deal and double-cross.
Everyone – Lureena, the drugged-out Corinna, the well-traveled Mitch, boss-man Rick, even the shuffling Tempura - are “waiting for something,” adrift, on the strange and exotic former Portuguese colony. They sing about their destinies or lack of in Durang-Melnick ditties that are catchy and genre-jumping.
Some are nearly forgettable but others enjoyable like the title tune, the goofy “Pretty Moon Over Macao,” the inanely addictive “Ticky Ticky Tock” and a genuine torcher, “So Long.” Durang’s lyrics won’t make people forget Stephen Sondheim or Lorenz Hart, but clever they are, and they do what lyrics are supposed to do: move the story along, add bits to character psyche and establish time and space. Melnick’s music is a match.
It is a small, excellent cast: the slinky Kelly Copps, wise and worldly as Lureena; big-voiced Steve Copps; high-voltage Kay Kerimian; Ben Puglisi, great on “Rick’s Song”; Marc Sacco, ridiculous as Tempura and loving every minute; Nicholas Lama and Bethany Burrows.
Quibbles: The one-joke premise “Macao” hits occasional lulls, exaggerated exits are many, and comic moments sometimes feel sophomoric and forced. Thankfully, there are not many of these, and real foolishness prevails.
Randy Kramer directs with tongue firmly in cheek. Michael Walline choreographs, Teresa Quinn leads a superb accompanying off-stage quartet.
When all the “Adrift in Macao” principals end up in New York City, performing at a nightclub, there is an androgynous chorus member who looks a lot like the scorned and banished Tempura. “Who is that?” asks Mitch. “I don’t know,” replies Rick, “but he/she has nice legs and we need dancers.” Ah. Across an ocean and still in Durang country.
What: “Adrift in Macao”
When: Through May 25
Where: MusicalFare, 4380 Main St., Snyder
Info: 839-8540, www.musicalfare.com