There is a reason Bill Murray’s recurring “Saturday Night Live” sleazy lounge singer routines were short. The dubious, one-joke pleasure of listening to a character perform who is so monumentally oblivious to his own mediocrity cannot sustain itself into a second chorus of “I Write The Songs.” Writer/composer Mark Nutter attempts to extend the concept into a lounge act reunion of four pathetically clueless “Rat Pack” wannabes, but fails to establish a serviceable premise for their shenanigans. Overwhelmed by Nutter’s ponderous, overly expositional book, director Paul Dexter and a hard-working ensemble (including Nutter) are never able to build any momentum for the occasionally on-the-mark musical numbers.
Set in a low-rent L.A. strip club, optimistic pianist/music director Don Hargrove (Nutter), buoyed by the retro success of swing music and a couple of Rat Pack TV documentaries, has gathered his former partners for a last-ditch shot at fame. Unfortunately, Hargrove, Dean Martin-clone lead singer Johnny DiPantino (Second City alum John Rubano), comedian Lenny Starr (Joe Liss) and Hargrove’s manipulative ex-wife vocalist Katie Foster (Jeanette Schwaba-Vigne), spend more time haranguing each other than they do performing. All this angst is a lot less entertaining than the music.
A few of Nutter’s songs evoke surrealistic memories of the tunes that were mainstays of the ’50s/’60s Vegas-style lounge acts. Rubano’s monumentally egotistical Johnny offers a Dino-like turn with the bouncy, “Pesta Fella Fonte,” and a macabre outing on the Irish ballad, “Who Stole The Pennies (From My Dead Mother’s Eyes)?” He also launches himself into the totally misanthropic, “You Deserve It,” which could be likened to an anti-social “My Way.”
Liss (a regular on “Comedy Central”) is quite believable as the self-promoting Jerry Lewis-like comic who gets his low-level laughs by constantly interrupting Johnny in mid-song.
Nutter (a former writer on “Saturday Night Live”) offers dead-on keyboard accompaniment to all the musical numbers but never appears comfortable as the woebegone Hargrove, who carries a painfully intense torch for his ex-wife. And Schwaba-Vigne’s Katie, the group’s supposed “eye candy,” does not exude the requisite sex appeal or demonstrate the vocal ability to have been a part of any singing group no matter how bad they were.
Paul Dexter has fashioned a very effective on stage/back stage environment out of the Century City Playhouse limited stage area.