Play It Cool Has Some of That Jazz


Mary’s Hideaway, a jazz joint catering to an ultra-discreet gay clientele in 1950s L.A., must be enduring some rough times at the cash register. Throughout the length of Play It Cool (Theater Row), a jazz-steeped new musical set inside Mary’s, the only customer who enters is a shady wannabe MGM producer (Chris Hoch), who brings with him exactly what a don’t-say-we’re-gay bar needs least—an underage kid (Michael Buchanan) just off the bus from squaresville with dreams of stardom. Luckily, tough but gentlemanly Mary (the resplendent Sally Mayes) knows enough to protect her business and instantly shuts the place down for the duration. Plus, the nice vice cop (Michael F. McGuirk) she pays protection to is on hand to straighten matters out.

Not that much gets straightened out at Mary’s, where the young blonde songbird (Robyn Hurder) who owns the proprietor’s heart seems to enjoy twisting said heart or anything else that could block her road to success. Everybody in Mary’s has schemes and secrets—way too many of each for audiences to care about the plot. And everybody—even, after a few lessons from Mary, that squaresville kid—sings jazz or what the show’s authors consider jazz. It goes down smoothly, but doesn’t leave much of an impression.

Relatively little about Play It Cool, in fact, leaves behind a strong impression. Mayes, a sparkling and stylish old hand, whose acting chops are as firmly in place as her scooby-doobabilities, supplies the principal reason for the show’s existence. She gets particularly able support in the vocal department from Buchanan, who introduces the song most likely to survive, “Future Street” (music by Marilyn Harris, one of five writers credited with “additional music”).

As the parenthetical after my previous sentence indicates, many—probably too many—hands have been busy retouching Play It Cool. The results often suggest, instead of the masterpieces of 1950s film noir, the B-budget programmers hastily written and directed by committee to capitalize on their success. Even the gay angle, in actual film noir carefully confined to hints that could slip by the Production Code’s watchdogs, has been so overworked in later stage and film reanimations of the genre that it’s more historical trivia than hot news. Still, when Mayes and Buchanan make with the pipes, and music director David Libby ripples the 88s, Play It Cool slides along pleasantly enough to perk up its familiar vein.