Review: 'Crime Does Not Play' by Downstage and Forte Musical Theatre

Vicki Trask

OnStage Calgary Critic

If you’ve met me before, you might know I have a passion for murder and mayhem. If you can combine my love of musicals with my love of death and dismemberment, I am completely sold. I see a brilliant marriage of the two in “Crime Does Not Pay”, the latest production by Downstage and Forte Musical Theatre with Hit & Myth Productions. This new two act musical in the Engineered Air Theatre pulls inspiration from old detective comics to tell the story of Bob Wood, an up and coming comic artist who gives in to his sadistic urges and writes a hugely successful series about bombshell dames, street justice, and unnecessary amounts of violence. He and his muse/girlfriend Violet Page come head to head with Eleanor Flood, the figure head for the Comics Code Authority (formed in 1954). All the while, Mr. Crime and his Crimettes sit on Bob’s shoulder, bringing out his inner criminal. 

Writers David Rhymer and Kris Demeanor with director Simon Mallett have created a wildly dark and satisfying story. I was enthralled with Bob’s journey and his blunt and brutal approach to life with his nineteen forties, straight-talkin’ dame at his side. Certainly, it was a well-constructed story from beginning to end. However, I found the pacing to be noticeably slow. The music was fantastic, and the story was fantastic, and the set changes were fantastic; but there was a slow swaying rhythm to show’s flow that kept me from becoming fully engrossed. The energy on that stage felt dim (with the exception of the climax which seemed to build up very quickly and then was back to the gentle hum. 

I should take a moment to add a disclaimer here: the production that I attended was a “relaxed production” meaning the houselights were dim the entire time and some of the cues were changed to accommodate people who might have light or sound sensitivities. I think it’s a wonderful idea and I applaud Downstage for creating a night like this; but I can’t tell you if having the houselights at half and duller sound and lighting took away from the pacing and momentum of the story. I can tell you that at this particular performance I saw a really good story that had trouble propelling itself forward. 

As I said earlier, the sets and set changes were fantastic. Anton de Groot’s design was resourceful, fit with the comic and panel theme, and was executed with relative ease. It complimented Amelia Scott’s creative projection design and kept the audience in the right mood and setting. I especially loved all the moving parts and the use of colour in Amelia’s design. In fact, the entire design of the show worked to create a continuous image of stepping out of a comic page. The makeup design was very clear although some of the actors’ dark lines and contouring were distractingly off; the same goes for Deitra Kalyn’s costume design. I really liked the sharp lines and use of the actors’ natural shapes. The intention behind these choices was clear and I think the entire show followed the same theme and told the same story.

Another feature of this new musical was the fact that the actors telling the story also played the instruments. This cast of seven were certainly impressive. The music in this show was so interesting. There really was something for everyone and each one was catchier than the last. From “Plans” to “Chameleon” to “Coming up Corpses” to my personal favourite “I’d Rather Die”, I am in love with the score for this this show; worth another visit just for the songs.

Our main villain – and the voice in everyone’s head – Mr. Crime, played by Kris Demeanor, also played guitar for the majority of the show, only stepping away to taunt and tease our protagonist. I thought Kris did an excellent job of keeping a low and sinister stature while also playing music but he felt somewhat one-note. He was dark, and sinister, and breathy for the entire show. As the host of the evening, I wanted more dynamics from him. 

Our decidedly anti-hero and other guitarist Bob wood, played by Devin MacKinnon, was charming and perfectly brutish. Devin has a smooth, rock voice which fit the character very well. He played the typical brooding artist with flashes of darkness that hinted at the climax without spoiling the ending. I thought Devin did an excellent job – as did his scene partner Jamie Konchak. 

Playing the damsel-not-in-distress, Jamie Konchak’s portrayal of Violet Page – and of the bass – was carefree and sassy. I was absolutely swooning over her character choices, and her hunger and fun-seeking attitude until the final lights out. She had an ease about her movement that I adored from note one and I think she absolutely nailed Violet’s fiery personality.

Lennette Randall played an excellent foil to the simmering Violet. Her performance of Eleanor Flood – and on the conga – was smooth and precise. She had such a calming way of moving around the stage even as she spoke with such passion and meticulousness.  Lennette did a fantastic job of creating a sympathetic antagonist for our hero to push against.

The rest of the cast were just as enthralling: David Rhymer as Marvin Shade on the keyboard, Selina Wong as ensemble, on the keyboard and percussion, and André Wickenheiser as ensemble, on trumpet and percussion.

I’ll add the disclaimer again: the production I saw was slightly altered from what you may see when you attend “Crime Does Not Pay” on any given evening. I may have mixed feelings about the production as a whole but I liked the story and I thought the actors were in touch with their characters. I encourage you to take a look at this latest production by Downstage and Forte Musical Theatre.