Down-at-heel, ersatz 1930s New York, as seen through the eyes of Woody Allen in the 1970s and 80s when he wrote a series of spoof murder mystery stories for the New Yorker magazine, is the setting of the quintessentially American tales in Woody Allen's Murder Mysteries.
Allen was clearly flexing precocious muscles that don't always travel well, in these tales. One, about trying to locate God, who's gone missing (“did he ever exist?” ), is a clever philosophical spin that must have looked great on paper but just dies on the vine. Another tells of a man dying in hospital. When visited by a poker-playing pal he mistakes his friend's visits for solicitous concern when in fact they're the product of his obsession for a bosomy blonde nurse. “What's the point of the story?” enquires another character. “There isn't any” comes the reply, “except it entertains.'”
Another story, of a good-time girl's journey through famous mobsters and gangsters, ends on a deeply melancholy note about a lifetime's search for and misplacement of love. The show’s strongest card lies less in the content of these stories, with their sardonic Jewish twists.
I imagine Allen would love director-adaptor Janey Clark’s classy surrounding textures given to the tales, in particular the brilliant jazzy-bluesy pastiche songbook created by composer and musical director Warren Wills. Wills' songs book-end and drape themselves around each story to give a marvellously rich sub-texture, performed by a terrific sextet of actor-singer-musicians, led by Harry Myers on luscious sax as the typically world-weary, booze-sodden private eye, and Johnson Willis who, amongst other duties, brings the writer disturbingly alive with a dead-ringer voiceover of Allen's own famously neurotic twang.
Kate McCahill, Lucy Victory and Karina Fernandez, too, sing their hearts out in various thanklessly brain-dead female roles. Still, never mind the stereotypes, feel the mood-music.
- Carole Woddis