Hollywood P.I.: Danger Is My Business

The hard-nosed detective flicks of the 1940s are ripe for parody, and the Desert Star Playhouse makes quick work of them with what may be the theater’s first foray into the genre of spoof noir.

“Hollywood P.I.: Danger Is My Business” has a rather low-energy first act, highlighted by a jaunty parody of “That’s Amore” called “That’s the Mafia.” The second act more than makes up for it, though, as things shift into high gear and the jokes start coming fast and furious.

“I kept my ear to the ground,” says an informant. “What did you come up with?” asks the detective. “Head lice,” he replies.

Scott Holman directed the show and stars as Sam Mussle, a Humphrey Bogart-style private eye with a strong dose of Leslie Nielsen’s “Naked Gun” character mixed in for good measure. Sam is hired by a femme who will certainly turn out to be fatale (Holly Braithwaite) to find a missing man. This leads to a search for the missing Cleopatra crown, a priceless artifact also pursued by the evil Bagdaddy (Ben E. Millet, also the writer).

Sam ignores his loyal secretary (Liz Thornell), gets help from an informant (Jack Drayton) and dodges Bagdaddy’s stuporous henchman (Morgan Walton). There’s also a saucy nightclub singer (Kerstin Anderson) and a Scottish cop (Matt Kohler). In other words, all the characters you expect to find in a show about ’40s detectives.

As always, I’m compelled to say, “As always, Scott Holman carries the show.” His deadpan delivery is often best-suited to supporting roles, but here it fits the lead perfectly. He had to ad-lib a few lines last Saturday when a phone didn’t ring on time, and we’re also tickled to see some good improvisation.

Holly Braithwaite is deliciously sultry and silly as Dominique Brunswick, the aforementioned dangerous dame. There’s also a fine sight gag involving a body bag, and an enjoyable twist in which the show’s piano player (Ben Mayfield) actually becomes a character in the scene. (After a few dozen Desert Star shows, you get excited by anything out of the norm.)

The post-show olio focuses on radio hits of yesterday and today and includes an uproarious parody of the Backstreet Boys and N’Sync. Staying for these olios is optional, but the Desert Star experience is not truly complete without them.

This was the last show my pals Chris and Lisa attended with me before heading off to England for a year, where Chris was to study Shakespeare directing at one of those universities they have over there. There is a fine line between Desert Star and Shakespeare.