BY HOLLY JOHNSON
I realized after five minutes into “Adrift in Macao,” currently at Broadway Rose Theater, that I was so ready for this kind of musical. Forget the heavy-handed high drama in song, the sweet stories and predictable endings. “Macao” is a delicious combo of brilliant silliness, satire and film-noir nostalgia, thanks to the grand lyrics and hilarious script by the high priest of the outrageously silly and absurd–Christopher Durang. The tunes by Peter Melnick, grandson ofRichard Rodgers, are wonderful as well, rich with melody, touched by Asian musical styles and alive with swanky vintage jazz riffs. Under Isaac Lamb’s able direction, the 95-minute musical (sans intermission) keeps us doubled over with laughter.
Anyone who loves “Casablanca,” the main inspiration for satire here, will happily dive right into the murky theatrical netherworld of Macao, China, in 1952 (Until 1999, Macau, as it is now spelled, was one of Portugal’s last surviving colonies). We know these characters right away from old black-and-white cinema. A group of people looking to leave the past behind meet in the gleaming, steaming night club of Rick Shaw (Gary Wayne Cash), a cynical casino owner/diamond smuggler in a smart white dinner jacket. Out of the dockside fog and into the club comes Lureena (the marvelous Pam Mahon) in her slinky evening dress, looking for, well, singing work in a nightclub. Rick says, “I’ll see you around.” Smoky-voiced Lureena responds, “Well, it’s a small cast.”
Durang throws standard plot ideas up in the air, and what lands on us is sheer, delightful ludicrousness. Boom, Lureena gets a job in the club, and is asked to sing “Pretty Moon over Macao,” a lovely number she doesn’t know at all (shades of Durang’s “Actor’s Nightmare”), and is forced to ad lib. Also finding his way to the surf and turf bar is Mitch (Michael Morrow Hammack), a handsome fellow running from the law in America, who’s in a grumpy mood as the song “Grumpy Mood” attests. Danielle Weathers is a hoot as the drug addict dancer Corinna, who’s also itching to get out of town, but can’t seem to move (she doesn’t want to miss her drug delivery). And Gene Chin as Tempura, a sinister piano-playing Asian with a secret agenda of his own, is simply hilarious.
The plot gets convoluted, but it’s particularly yummy when all the characters end up performing together in New York. And it’s the characters we love. We just don’t want them to leave the stage.
Musical direction by Mont Chris Hubbard is sharp. Choreography by Dan Murphy is clever and fun, and scenic designer Larry Larsen, known for his great sets for Mock’s Crest Gilbert and Sullivan shows,creates a perfect vintage bar, with gleaming surfaces and shadowy corners. Phil McBeth’s lighting combines murky and romantic as its plays upon the stage.
The show at the company’s New Stage in Tigard runs Thursdays through Saturdays through Oct. 25. For information and tickets, visit the Broadway Rose website.