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‘Sam Shade’ strays from the trail too often

Sam Shade: A

Detective Musical

• Through Aug. 31

• DVA Productions at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center

1300 Gendy St., Fort Worth

• $15-$20

• 8 p.m. Friday, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday

• 817-313-3052; www.dvaproductions.org

Posted 2:50pm on Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013

This detective doesn’t have a clue.

Sam Shade, the musical spoof that opened Friday at DVA Productions, takes The Maltese Falcon (and a great many other pop-culture icons) and twists them into a comedy with a predominantly black cast. So instead of Sam Spade, we get the title character.

The show was written by composer and keyboardist Joe Rogers, who has done such great work over the years with musicals at Jubilee Theatre. He, bassist Chris White and drummer Eddie Dunlap provide the onstage musical support, and their playing is excellent. But while some of the show’s numbers are pretty funny, most are just generic, especially when compared with the high quality of Rogers’ overall output.

The script for this show, which debuted in 2009 at Jubilee, offers even less to get excited about than the score. The plot is very loosely based on the famous Bogart film, but it meanders all over the place and misses one opportunity after another to be a successful film noir parody. The show really drives off a cliff in the second act when Charlie Chan is suddenly thrown into the fray in a dream sequence. That is just one of many moments when the show’s focus strays to the breaking point.

There is one standout performance in the large cast that is filled with familiar Jubilee faces, including several players reprising roles they played in the original production of this show. Simone Gundy is spot-on as Sam’s secretary, Lucy, gracing her character with a voice that falls somewhere between Betty Boop and Cyndi Lauper.

Steven Griffin is solid enough in the title role. The rest of the cast has some campy fun with its broadly comic parts. There are some fine voices in the cast, including Abel Baldazo Jr. (one of the best singers working locally these days), Michele Rene and Crystal Williams. It’s a shame that no program was distributed at the performance I saw for this review, so that those performers could get their due.

But, on the whole, very little about this show, directed by Sheran Keyton, works. Some of the silliness, such as an extended Invisible Man joke, elicits a few laughs. But most of the musical numbers are forgotten as soon as they are heard.

The choreography, done by a committee of four, looks more like half-hearted crowd control than dancing. The costuming, also by Keyton, doesn’t do much to convey the early-1940s setting. The sets, by David Ruffin, are minimal to the point of being almost pointless. And the icing on the cake is that, at two-and-a-half hours, the show is way too long.

Rogers is an outstanding musician and lyricist, but he has stepped outside his comfort zone by also writing the book for this show. That chore would have been better left to someone who handles words as well as Rogers handles notes.

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