Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Adventures of Dex Dixon, Paranormal Dick—Stumptown Stages—downtown Portland

The Rise & Fall of a Fearless Dick

This noir, horror, musical comedy is written by Steve Coker with music and lyrics by Coker and KJ McElrath and directed by Kirk Mouser (Stumptown’s Artistic Director).  Musical direction is by Jon Quesenberry (arrangements by Pete Petersen) and choreography by Jamie Langton.  It is playing at the Brunish Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, through January 31st.  For more information, please go to www.stumptownstages.org

The genre is from the 40’s detective film noir school were the antiheros were born, such as Sam Spade, Philip Marlow, Dick Tracy and Mickey Spillaine.  The play also has something in common with Mel Brooks’ type of humor, spoofing genres, and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” where a noir detective goes into Toontown to investigate a murder.  Well, in this incarnation, it’s Nightside where all the paranormal creatures live.

It seems that Dex (Steve Coker) has a failing detective agency.  His only solace is a bottle of booze; his faithful girl Friday, Billie (Danielle Valentine), who has a thing for Dex, unrequited; his scruffy mascot/side-kick, Lobo (Sean Ryan Lamb), a werewolf, who pees on his carpet when he gets excited; and Scoops (Matthew Snyder), a cub reporter for a local rag, who occasionally gets Dex on the front page, which gives him some much needed PR.

But, just when you think things couldn’t get any lower, in walks a dame to die for, Nelly (Sydney Weir).  She wants him to investigate who turned her husband into a brain-eater (a zombie).  But that means Dex will have to cross over into Nightside, where all the freaks live.  And it means reuniting with his old flame, the sultry, Delila (Lisa Gilham-Luginbill), a Vamp (a vampire).  It also means meeting up with her old gang, headed by her brother, Horus (Illya Torres-Garner) and a messy gang of other vamps (Caroline D’Ambrosi, Tasha Danner, Elizabeth Hadley and Carrie Morgan).

But his job is too big for one man, so he has to recruit two of his competitor dicks, Lariby (Alexis Moore Eytinge), a she-dick and his chief rival, the unscrupulous Manix Marloe, mystic dick (Jonathan Hall).  And so, our daring dick and his dedicated dupes descend into the dirty depths of the depraved and dead.  But to tell you more would spoil the fun, so I’ll leave it at that.

I saw an earlier version of this show and was mightily impressed with it then…and still am.  Coker and McElrath are quite a team of creators and to have a play that crosses so many genres, and successfully, too, is quite an accomplishment.  Coker has captured the films of the Noir genre by giving us the same seedy, narrative style of those cheapy, detective, B&W flicks from the 30’s-50’s.  And McElrath has captured the 40-ish style of music and lyrics from that era to a tee.

Mouser, as always, knows how to squeeze the most out of a small space.  He is exceptional when choosing his cast, especially the ladies, who would rival any major singer in the world with the extraordinary quality of their voices.  Quesenberry adds an extra touch of magic when he’s involved with a show.  And Langton’s dances numbers are energetic and fit the Noir period.  Costumes (Marychris Mass) are also spot on for this era.  Especially noteworthy are the puppets of “Frank” and the Gatekeepers by Bill Holznagel, truly amazing!

As mentioned, all the ladies have outstanding voices.  Coker is at his best as Dex, giving full rein to bestowing homage to a by-gone time.  He has a velvet voice in his singing, smooth glide in his dancing and a chipper nature in his enacting a hard dick with guts of steel.  Lamb, as his faithful companion, Lobo, was particularly engaging, playing beautifully off Coker.  And Torres-Garner (“Flash” in another incarnation) was delicious as the bad dude, a fiend you love to hate.

And the songs were all well played.  My favorites were “You Pull My Strings,” Delicious Love,” and “Old Dog, New Tricks.”  This musical has potential to go “Big Time” and I hope they keep forging forward with it.  I recommend this show.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.