(This is very tough for a speak-easy, er . . . a theater that features only melodrama. You understand, of course, that during Prohibition, even in a melodrama, there ain't no "BOOS" allowed.) But with the notorious Spats Moran offering his own special brand of "protection," Desert Star should be perfectly safe.
The Windy City may be in the throes of depression, but audiences are guaranteed to be anything but depressed during author Peter VanSlyke's fast-paced comedy about cops and robbers caught up in heists, fixed boxing matches, angels with dirty faces, straight-arrow Irish policemen, peroxide blonde floozies, and a tough-as-nails G-man hell-bent on upholding the department's Code of Justice.
And it will all be worth it if it helps just one little freckle-faced lad out there refrain from stealing a licorice rope and start down the street of hard knocks en route to a life of crime! (Pops McHardee's Windy City Diner serves up more than hearty helpings of Mom's Apple Pie - if you saunter in at the right time you might get a lecture from G-Man Frank Mills.)
"Gangsters Away" takes us where local melodrama has never gone before - the streets, the rooftops, the sleazy warehouses, even the jail cells of a big city trapped by a reign of terror, thanks to Public Enemy No. 5 (or maybe it's No. 6).
The eight-member cast keeps things moving at a fast and frenzied pace, stopping now and then to inject a few nifty songs or some really swell dancing into the action.
Gary Winterholler, DSP's very own "man of a thousand faces" and one of the region's sharpest comics, is Frank "G" Mills, the hero, faced with almost single-handedly ridding the city of crime and corruption.
On the other side of the fence are Norman Plate and Scott Holman as two-bit gangster Spats Moran and his really dumb henchman, Knuckles.
Caught in between is Johnny Fitzgerald (Brett Bradford), who spends most of his time flirting - usually with danger, but often with Pops McHardee's sweet, innocent daughter, Maggie (Alison Henriksen).
Moran's female accomplices include Vi Casewell (the Lady in Red . . . or Purple . . . sometimes a Blonde Bombshell - she changes from scene to scene), played to the hilt by Alisa Harris, one of the most accomplished comediennes in town, and chanteuse Cheri, played by Melissa Bridge.
(In this show, I explained to my children before it opened, "There's a real gangster's moll!" Their first reply was: "Great, how many stores does it have?" Obviously, there's a communication gap here, but Alisa Harris is wonderful as Spat's Moran's moll - especially in the scene where she delivers a cake to Spats and Johnny in jail. Is there a file inside? Would we tell you if there was?)
The entire cast has a lot of fun with VanSlyke's hilarious send-up of those 1930s and '40s gangster tales. From blazing guns (bringing the action right down into the audience at times) to break-neck chases across the rooftops, there's plenty of entertainment packed into the two-act melodrama.
The evening's post-show olios, centered around a 1930s-style radio show, spotlight the cast's individual talents.
"Gangsters Away" also introduces the Playhouse's new musical director and piano-player, Sue Talmage, who accompanies the goings-on on stage and plays for the sing-alongs prior to the show. She's a talented pianist and it should be interesting to see what direction she takes with the pre-show entertainment.
Scenery designer Frank Ackerman and costumer Ruth Todd also deserve some attention. Ackerman's murals, especially, continue to add considerably to the professionalism at Desert Star Playhouse. He's working with a relatively tiny stage (the kind of soaring scenery you get on the Lees Main Stage at Pioneer Memorial Theatre isn't remotely possible here), but his finely executed drops are terrific.