Bluesy band. Foreign city. Spotlit silhouette of a woman in a slinky purple satin dress, looking like Jessica Rabbit. She sings, “In a foreign city/In a slinky dress….” Thus begins “Adrift in Macao,” a hilarious musical, which, despite its tongue-in-cheek noirishness, is wholesome enough and funny enough to qualify as family entertainment. Writer Christopher Durang’s toonish inclination works perfectly here, and not a single moment is burdened by a Serious Idea. Parody, spoof, and good-natured lay-it-on-thick winking are the medium without a message.
The plot revolves around a McGuffin: Mitch (David McDonald) has drifted into Macao, hunting for a man named McGuffin who murdered his lover and then pinned the murder on him. McGuffin will, of course, turn out to be a McGuffin. Lureena (Rachel de Benedet) has also just arrived and gets hired to sing in Rick’s nightclub, bumping “Evil Princess of Desire” Corinna (Michele Ragusa) out of a job. The omnipresent Tempura (Orville Mendoza) — a smiling Asian henchperson who insists on his scrutability — turns out to be a chameleon of races, nationalities and genders. Diamond-smuggling and fog and trenchcoats come and go as the jolly plot bumps along, winding up eventually in Bangkok and New York.
There’s some terrific singing of some clever songs and remarkably lavish production numbers performed by sometimes three, sometimes five people. Everybody gets a big song — even Rick (Michael Rupert), whose number is about not having been given a song. Self-reflexive jokiness runs through the show, although the torch song is sufficiently torchy and the lyrical ballads sufficiently lyrical to be musically satisfying as well as amusing.
De Benedet is not only gorgeously leggy and curvy but she finds the perfect balance between playing it straight and sultry and playing it for laughs. Mendoza astonishes everytime he is onstage.
“Adrift in Macao” could launch a new parlor game: how many allusions did you get? The musical mavens will be citing “Urinetown” while humming “Happy Talk” from “South Pacific.” Even “Chess” may figure into it, not to mention “The King and I.” (Composer Peter Melnick is Richard Rogers’ grandson). Film fanatics will be citing “From Here to Eternity,” “Miracle of Morgan’s Creek,” and “Kiss of Death.” Everybody will get the “Casablanca” reference: Enter blonde bombshell trying to hail a rickshaw; Enter man saying suavely, “Hello. I’m Rick Shaw.” And everybody’s going to be stuck for days singing “Ticky ticky tocky, Knock, knock,” the annoyingly, irresistibly catchy tune that ends the show in a singalong.