KCPT’s Gunmetal Blues a WhoDunIt

By Jason Victor Serinus
Posted 4/10/24



For spring’s major offering in its 65th birthday season, Key City Public Theater has dipped into the relative past for Gunmetal Blues, Scott Wentworth’s …

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KCPT’s Gunmetal Blues a WhoDunIt




For spring’s major offering in its 65th birthday season, Key City Public Theater has dipped into the relative past for Gunmetal Blues, Scott Wentworth’s all-singing piano bar musical. With music and lyrics by Craig Bohmler and Marion Adler, the two-hour light comedic thriller is intended for a small stage, if not perhaps for one where space for choreographic inspiration is as limited as Key City’s.

It takes but a few minutes into the first act to realize that the show, which opens on Friday night at the Red Eye Lounge, is a whodunit spoof on the film noir murder mysteries of the 1940s and ‘50s. Complete with a narrator / piano player named Buddy Toupé (Mark Rabbe), The Private Eye (Geoffery Simmons), and The Blonde (Christa Holbrook), the show is heavy on verbal and musical clichés, some of which are almost saved by a healthy number of clever, smile-inducing one liners. The first song by the Princess, one of many blondes in a blonde-heavy evening that reserves “The Blonde Song” for its undisputed star, has Kurt Weill and Mark Blitzstein written all over it. Except that, unlike many of their songs, it’s doubtful you’ll remember a single melody or lyric once the evening has concluded.

Gunmetal Blues is a cigarette-heavy, alcohol-laden story of past resentments and present crimes that, on opening night, seemed to inspire an equal amount of alcohol consumption by the audience. Like any number of 18th and 19th century operas whose plots are best forgotten, its value is mainly as a showcase for its small cast and three offstage musicians.

Thankfully, KCPT’s 19-year Artistic Director Denise Winter, working side-by-side with Director / Artistic Associate Brendan Chambers and Music Director Linda Dowell, made excellent casting choices. Holbrook, who is also KCPT’s Production Manager, has one of those classic “character voices” that, when given an opportunity to demonstrate its versatility, inspires accolades. Her range is impressive—far larger than many a pop singer’s—and her ability to consistently enunciate every word clearly and naturally puts her squarely in the league of some of Broadway and popular legends who date back to the era of The Great American Songbook. While it was difficult to judge the ultimate power of her instrument, which was for the most part discretely enhanced by Taylor Thomas Marsh’s sound design, I expect that it can project well in a venue wetter than KCPT’s resonance-free acoustic.

Rabe and Simmons are both thoroughly enjoyable pros who, like Holbrook, can clearly hold their own in far larger venues. Rabe’s gifts as a piano player/vocalist are tailor-made for cabaret, with his affable nature and talent for tickling the keys taking prominence. Simmons threw in a few dance moves—a kick here, a twirl there, and a single grind that elicited some nervous giggles—and even managed a one-handed push-up on the piano bar. He’s a joy to watch as he navigates with aplomb one quip after the other. Director Chambers aptly honored his cast’s many gifts.

Equal kudos go to the off-stage musicians, drummer Rachel Doan, bassist Isaac Jasinski, and wind players Jayne Morrison and (starting April 11) Vincent Oneppo. It was good to be able to applaud them at the start of the second and final act, and to also rejoice that KCPT supports local musicians. Dowdell did herself proud with this ensemble.

Like its blonde star, whose multiple identities defy both description and conventional psychoanalysis, Gunmetal Blues ultimately pretends to be more than it is. Nonetheless, it has made the rounds of intimate venues for over 30 years. It’s a good placeholder and, for the right audience, a nice excuse to get out of the house and off the screen. Shows continue Thursday-Sunday through April 28. For tickets, see keycitypublictheatre.org or call 360-385-5278.