By Jordan Wright (Photo/Margot Schulman)
If you want to be cast in a major part, nail half a dozen roles in the same production and oversee the musical score, well, maybe you should just write your own show.
That’s exactly what former Helen Hayes Award winner Ed Dixon has done with “Cloak and Dagger” at Signature Theatre. He set out to create the perfect platform for his talents, penning the book, music and lyrics. In his madcap homage to 1950s film noir, Dixon takes on more than a dozen roles, giving director Eric Schaeffer one hot hit.
The story: Nick Cutter is a private eye on the downswing. Holed up in a shabby one-desk office in Manhattan, his world is unraveling when sexy, sharp-tongued firecracker, Helena Troy, walks in.
Troy is being chased by gangsters-with-gats led by her goombah fiance, Fattoni, a lowlife in pursuit of a purloined gold statue of the Roman goddess Venus. Can the adoring Nick save her from the Mafia and solve the mystery of the statue? Not before combing every nook and cranny of New York City, from Chinatown and Little Italy to Canal Street and 42nd Street, and every hellhole in between.
“Follow the stench — cheap cologne and despair,” the frowzy landlady advises Cutter as she tries to woo him in the tune “A Real Woman.”
“You may be onto to something,” Cutter acknowledges.
“I’d like to be!” she retorts with a wink.
When he worries Troy might already be a corpse, she suggests, “I’m sure she’s all right, unless she fell in holy water in direct sunlight.”
The gags come thick and fast and in a wealth of different accents. You’ve gotta keep up.
Doug Carpenter, an appealing and handsome lead actor with a matchless voice to boot, plays the down-on-his-luck detective. A few of the most moving numbers in the show are his: “The Worst of Times” and “The Best of Times,” the two opening numbers, and “Love Is,” which comes after he’s fallen head over heels for Troy.
Erin Driscoll takes on the role of the vixen. Though her petite frame is somewhat overshadowed by the big galoots, she makes up for it as a songstress who can sell a tune to a flock of nightingales — and does.
Behind a simple set of three doors, Dixon and Christopher Bloch — who round out the rest of the cast — weave in and out, donning crazy costumes and yet they emerge completely transformed in record breaking time.
The show is a bonanza of double entendres, men in drag (Dixon does a potty-mouthed Mae West), and some vaudeville-style hoofing (in “An Agent,” Bloch conjures up Jimmy Durante and dances to “Hava Nagila”).
As important as the jokes are, the music is even more critical. And one way to gauge the value of a musical is not just by the score, but by the lyrics. Would a singer choose any of these songs for a nightclub or cabaret act? Well, yes!
Dixon gave the songsters catchy tunes, creative lyrics and romantic ballads to choose from. There are 19 numbers played by four musicians, a quartet that tricks us into thinking they’re an orchestra. Jordon Ross Weinhold, 22 years old and one year out of college, compiled the orchestrations. He is a veritable whiz kid.
“Cloak and Dagger” is a clever detective story done in burlesque. What’s not to like?
“Cloak and Dagger” runs through July 6 at Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington. For tickets and information call 703-820-9771 or visit www.signature-theatre.org.