Written by Ryan Landry, Directed by James P. Byrne; Delta Miles, Choreography; Scott Martino, Costume Design; Amelia Gossett and Lauren Duffy, Set Design; Roger Moore, Sound Design
CAST: The Family: Varla Jean Merman (Mildred Fierce), Chris Loftus (Bert Fierce), Penny Champayne (Veda Fierce), Grace Carney (Kaye Fierce); The Best Friend: Olive Another (Ida); The Creeps: Delta Miles (Wally Faye), Brooks Brasselman (Monty Brigadoon); The Maid/Dowager: Ryan Landry (Butterball/Mrs. Forrester); The Fuzz: Bill York (Detective Davis), Tim Lawton (The Singing Cop); The Chorus: Liza Lott, Robin Millie Smith, Laine Binder, Chris McVien, Gary Shelley Croteau
Performances through March 17 by the Gold Dust Orphans at Machine, 1254 Boylston Street, Boston, MA; Tickets http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/308819
Joan Crawford won the Oscar in 1946 for Best Actress in a Leading Role for MildrEd Pierce, but Varla Jean Merman gives her a run for her money as the namesake in the Gold Dust Orphans' noir musical Mildred Fierce. Merman makes a welcome return to town and the subterranean stage at Machine to star in Ryan Landry's latest movie parody and show off her considerable song and dance talents. Equal parts melodrama and comedy, Mildred Fierce closely parallels the black and white film based on the James M. Cain novel, but it is far more colorful given the high camp treatment by the Orphans.
After Mildred's cheating husband Bert (Chris Loftus) leaves her, she must prove that she can be independent and successful without a man. A vulgar realtor (Delta Miles) helps her purchase a property on the cheap from playboy Monty Brigadoon (Brooks Brasselman, channeling Truman Capote), and she turns it into a thriving restaurant (Mildred's Pie Hole), with the help of her Eve Arden-type friend Ida (Olive Another in a fabulous rendition of a gal pal). Despite the financial windfall, nothing that Mildred does is good enough for her evil, grabby daughter Veda (Penny Champayne), even though everything she does is for the spoiled brat, totally neglecting her other daughter Kaye (Grace Carney) whose name she can never remember.
Any noir story worth its salt must have a murder - Mildred actually opens with the shooting and plays out as a flashback - and that brings in the fuzz. With a wink to the bitter rivalry between Crawford and Bette Davis, the investigator on the murder case is Detective Davis (Bill York), who wears oversized round-framed glasses, sports blunt cut bangs and a cigarette holder, and speaks in a spot on clipped tone reminiscent of the actress. She is assisted by the tremendously powerful voice of the Singing Cop (Tim Lawton), and they piece together the mystery to get the culprit in the end.
In addition to Merman, there are standout performances across the board. We all know that Veda is the villain, but Champayne infuses her with an extra measure of crass materialism and egocentricity. Even while wearing the choreographer's hat, Miles is sleazy and off-putting as Wally Faye, serving as a worthy foil to Mildred. As his character goes through a transformation, Loftus captures both the creepy and the good guy traits, earning our affection by the end. Although Carney's stage time is brief, she has an impact with some appropriate overacting. Landry plays two diametric supporting roles as the family maid Butterball (think Butterfly McQueen) and the snooty dowager Mrs. Forrester, whose son is in the clutches of Veda. Rounding out the ensemble, the singing and dancing members of the chorus are the always lovely Liza Lott, Robin Millie Smith, Laine Binder, Christine McVien, and Gary Shelley Croteau.