Entertainment » Theatre

Adrift In Macao

by Robert Nesti
EDGE National Arts & Entertainment Editor
Wednesday Jan 16, 2008
Kathy St. George as Corrina, Ariel Heller as Mitch, and Aimee Doherty as Lureena.
Kathy St. George as Corrina, Ariel Heller as Mitch, and Aimee Doherty as Lureena.  (Source:Lyric Stage Company)

Ever channel surf and come across a black-and-white movie from 50 years ago? Usually it's on Turner Classic Movies and it's a noirish melodrama set in some exotic locale that features a shadowy hero with a past and femme-fatale who may not what she seems to be. If you (like me) get hooked immediately than Adrift in Macao, the musical satire having its Boston premiere at the Lyric Stage, is for you. As conceived by Christopher Durang (book and lyrics) and Daniel Melnick (music), the show is an affectionate send-up of those movies that succeeds more often than it doesn't.

It was Durang's love of these movies and old movie musicals inspired him to write this light-hearted spoof. Those, though, expecting his characteristic satirical wit (think The Marriage of Bette and Boo) will be disappointed - Macao is a light satire, more akin to Carol Burnett than Sister Mary Ignatius.

Yet despite its lack of edge, it's a good deal of fun. Set in Macao in 1952, it concerns a motley group of Western expatriates who have, for no apparent reason, settled there. They include Lureena, a slinky-clad nightclub singer just off the boat from the States; Mitch, a brooding American bent on clearing his name for a murder he didn't commit; Rick Shaw, the tough owner of a nightclub, Rick's Surf & Turf Gambling casino; and Corrina, the club's hardened headliner (but not for long.) There's also Tempura, the club's piano player and resident busybody. ("I am called Tempura," he explains by way of introduction, "because I have been battered by life.")

Mitch has come to Macao in attempt to locate the actual murderer - named McGuffin (after the device in Hitchcock movies that, in case you didn't recall, gets footnoted by Lureena.) As he attempts to do so, he becomes romantically involved with Lureena. She, in turn, is pursued by Shaw, who is the object of Corrina's affection. Unlike actual noirs from the period, there is really no criminal element here (save for Mitch's attempt at clearing his name.) Instead Adrift in Macao playfully mines the romantic atmosphere that those films evoke - the archetypical characters and locales that only exist in Hollywood Film Noir, which is given a definition by Lureena, who, she explains, once dated a film critic: "It's French for black-and-white movie set at night, with danger and guns and glamorous women in evening gowns."

It's a thin premise, even for a musical; but Durang and Melnick provide it with enough silly gags and clever song parodies to keep the show afloat for its brief 90-minute running time. Melnick's songs evoke musical theater songs from the period (the Postwar musical) and Durang's lyrics flow nicely from his joke-filled script. The best of them come late in the show - "So Long," Lureena's bluesy, show-stopping turn; "Rick's Song," a hilarious bit of nonsense in which the character offers his own response to the fact that he hasn't been given a song to sing; and "Ticky-Tacky," the show's catchy finale that ingeniously moves the locale back to the States without missing a beat.

What makes Adrift in Macao such a winning entertainment is the staging by Stephen Terrell, who not only is simpatico with the show's concept but shrewdly configures the movement for the Lyric's postage-stamp stage. (The show's modest size is even commented on when Lureena meets Rick: "See you around," he says. "Well, it's a small cast," she replies.)

Certainly his cast offer some fresh spins to the lovingly conceived stereotypes they play. Aimee Doherty brings a goofy wholesomeness to Lureena - she's more girl-next-door than femme fatale, but it's a great spin on the character. Ariel Heller is drolly funny as the wronged Mitch; Kathy St. George plays Corrina with her tongue firmly in cheek (which is just right;) and Brendan McNab (a late replacement for Paul D. Farwell who was injured in a late rehearsal) brings deadpan charm to Rick Shaw. The scene-stealer turns out to be Austin Ku, whose Tempura is an affectionate and quite funny send-up on Hollywood Asian stereotypes. He's also priceless in drag. There's seamless musical accompaniment (musical direction by Jonathan Goldberg, conducted by F. Wade Russo) from a band at the rear of the stage; and an appropriately tacky look, thanks to J. Michael Griggs (sets), David Costa-Cabral (costumes), and Scott Pinkney (lighting).

Adrift in Macao may bring us a kinder, gentler Christopher Durang, but it is still a fun diversion from one of the American theater's most precocious talents.

Robert Nesti can be reached at [email protected].

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