The Adventures of Dex Dixon: Paranormal Dick
With all the nuance, technical sophistication and unvarnished authenticity we've come to expect from the auteur behind Varsity Cheerleader Werewolves Live From Outer Space, Steve Coker returns to the Funhouse stage as writer, director and star of this scattershot satire.
However fond of easy jokes, the Orson Welles of overblown, underproduced comic meta-spectacles evidently enjoys a challenge. Though detective stories might be the only genre less ripe for parody than the '80's teen horror of his previous project, the Grimm vet's repurposed screenplay manages to wring fresh laughs from well-worn tropes.
Employing the rhythms of hard-boiled gumshoe narration to hurtle through the expository fine print about a mirror dimension inhabited by vampires and zombies - who seem, worryingly, more familiar than men wearing hats and defending reputations - Coker's garrulous baritone punches up the gag-laden voiceovers. It also proves a charismatic foil for the swing-era tunes crooned throughout by an assemblage of richly talented, naturally funny, youngish performers.
Continuing through intermission as surprisingly effective entr'acte entertainment from actresses already dolled up to play lounge singers, the hit parade of Greatest Generation standards bleeds a seriousness of intent otherwise absent in the proceedings. It reveals a creative vision, forged by immersion in the excesses of schlock culture, that honors the workaday artists who fueled show business well before the monsters took over.
OREGON ARTS WATCH
Welcome to the Night Side:
Smart creative team makes "The Adventures of Dex Dixon: Paranormal Dick" an entertaining ride
Riddle: Who’s in charge of Night Side? That shady town full of werewolves and vampires, creeps and ghouls accessible from our “normal” world only by wily private eyes like Dex Dixon, Manix Marloe and Carl Kolchak, The Night Stalker? Answer: Why, Frank, the ventriloquist benevolent puppet dictator.
That revelation comes early in Stumptown Stages’ dizzily entertaining new musical about an aging paranormal private eye, premiering at Portland’s Brunish theater. “Filled with puns, guns, vixens, vamps, monsters, music, and mayhem,” the debut run ends today, Sunday, January 31.
Our guide to Night Side, Dex Dixon, is played by Steve Coker, who also wrote the book for The Adventures of Dex Dixon: Paranormal Dick, designed the scenes, shared the task of writing the music and lyrics with K.J. McElrath, (and) acted the part. He is also the artistic director of StageWorks Ink. If that isn’t enough to get him elected mayor of Portland then I’m stumped!
But Coker is only part of an exceptional creative team whose combined efforts made Dex Dixon one of Fertile Ground’s most captivating shows.
Jaime Langton’s witty choreography flowed seamlessly between those with less dance experience... Dixon and his trusty sidekick werewolf, Lobo (some sweet soft shoe in “Old Dog, New Tricks”) to the veteran dancer playing Nelly; the dangerous dame who sizzles in “Frisk Me, Dex.” More than just well thought out dance steps was the caricature imparted to the dancers and dances. Sydney Weir’s Nelly captured the pretzeled bodied zombie I’ve never seen in a zombie flick but completely believed. Weir isn’t just a clean crisp dancer, she’s a physical actor imbuing Langton’s choreography with over-the-top personality. She crossed and uncrossed her dangerous-dame legs sleazier than Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct.And I mean this in a good way. Two more dance reasons to get you to this show: “The Brainsucker Tango” and the the monster mash between the Weres and the Zombies in “Dex in Danger.”
DD uses a live jazz club quartet prominently displayed visually and aurally. And aural is where the show breaks down. Dex Dixon is predicated on delicious pulp-poetry and puns. Care needs to be given to the audience experience: Are we ALL catching every one of those lines, asides, lyrics? What song lyrics I caught promised great depth for those I missed. I loved the refrain exchange between Lobo the Werewolf and DD:
Lobo: (to the aging private eye) Old Dog! Dex: (bristly) New tricks! “Any Port in a Storm” got the fairest hearing in part because Danielle Valentine’s voice is so strong.
Illya Torres-Garner’s gleefully over-the-top Horus, the evil Vampire cracked me up, reminding me what might happen if Inigo Montoya hung out with the wrong crowd. Sean Ryan Lamb’s Lobo, the nervous cuddly werewolf, peppered his cats-on-internet hyper cuteness with Brian the Dog wry physical humor. And while I appreciated the low key likeable approach Steve Coker took with his detective, especially his frequent improvised asides to the audience, I felt his Dex Dixon went over too easy. I wanted harder boiled. Or maybe I just needed to hear the lines. Maybe Frank the Benevolent puppet dictator can straighten it all out.
Without giving too much of this show away, because I expect it to come back shortly in an extended run, the scene design and props are the stars. Go for Bill Holznagel’s creation, Frank, the ventriloquist dummy. Stay for the Chinese dragon costume-like slithering trolls. Take in the simplicity of a bridge between two worlds, with two ladders. I seem to always come to the same conclusion about shows I love: It comes down to IQ and this is one of the smartest teams I’ve seen in a long time.
Maria Choban-- Oregon Arts Watch, January 31st 2016
OREGON LIVE (OREGONIAN)
'The Adventures of Dex Dixon' is a fun, feisty noir parody (review)
This weekend, "The Adventures of Dex Dixon: Paranormal Dick" premiered at the Brunish Theatre -- the same weekend Fox began its reboot of "The X-Files."
Except for a chupacabra or human sewer worm, "Dex Dixon," a goofy, overplotted 1940s-noir-inspired horror musical, is crammed with a good number of "X-Files" monsters of the week.
Gumshoe Dixon (Steve Coker, who wrote the book and co-wrote the score) battles and/or befriends werewolves, vampires, zombies and trolls in a quest to keep the citizens of our "normal" world safe from the blood and brain-hungry denizens of "Night Side." Coker's musical homage to old-school movie monsters evolved from a (proposed) web series. Though there's a lot to like in this labor of love — the undead characters and many of the parody numbers are a kick — the transition from online to live theater is still buggy.
Line of the Night: "I'm Dex Dixon, Paranormal Dick. The guy you call when the average dick won't do."
Director Kirk Mouser keeps the silliness moving at maximum flow, with enough comic pauses to let the puns and double-entendres sink in. You laugh. You groan. But you respond. Loudly.
Coker, who sang his double-wide's doors off as Rufus in "The Great American Trailer Park Christmas Musical" in December, jazzes up a storm with a vampy vampire in "You Pull My Strings."
For a musical in which he's the star, Coker's written the werewolf's share of material for his ensemble. It's a generous move that pays off with numbers like "You Can't See It At All" (the wallflower secretary secretly in love with her detective boss) and "Key To Your World" (vampires plotting world domination).
Working with the undead, choreographer Jaime Langton has crafted fierce footwork that goes well past "Thriller."
And the production, from the noir-nightscape set to the creepy, puppeted trolls, is imaginative and impressive.
Lee Williams- Oregonian, January 25th, 2016
THE CRIPPLED CRITIC
"Dex Dixon: Paranormal Dick" is doubtlessly the most bizarre show currently running on a Portland stage. I am as yet undecided if it has beaten "Flash Ah-ahhhh" as the weirdest thing I've seen this season, coincidently both productions are from the truly strange mind of Steve Coker.
"Dex" is a film noir parody musical, sprinkled with vampires, werewolves, and zombies. See? I told you it was one of a kind! As was the case with "Flash-Ahhhh" the show's unconventionality is never used as an excuse to have subpar production values. Both the singers and the several-piece band are impressive. "Dex" is the middle-show of Stumptown's Season, and for me, it holds the top spot.
I have become very fond of Mr. Coker's work, and I cannot wait for his next outing, a musicalization of the Steve Martin comedy "The Three Amigos."
Kristopher Haines- Sunday, January 24, 2016
DENNIS SPARKS THEATRE REVIEWS
The Rise & Fall of a Fearless Dick
This noir, horror, musical comedy is written by Steve Coker with music and lyrics by Coker and KJ McElrath and directed by Kirk Mouser (Stumptown’s Artistic Director). Musical direction is by Jon Quesenberry (arrangements by Pete Petersen) and choreography by Jamie Langton.
The genre is the 1940’s detective film noir, were the antiheros were born, such as Sam Spade, Philip Marlow, Dick Tracy and Mickey Spillaine. The play also has something in common with Mel Brooks; spoofing genres, (and a touch of) “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” where a noir detective goes into Toontown to investigate a murder. Well, in this incarnation, it’s Nightside where all the paranormal creatures live.
I saw an earlier version of this show and was mightily impressed with it then…and still am. Coker and McElrath are quite a team... to have a play that crosses so many genres successfully is quite an accomplishment. Coker has captured the films of the Noir genre by giving us the same seedy, narrative style of those cheapy, detective, B&W flicks from the 30’s-50’s. And McElrath has captured the 40-ish style of music from that era to a tee.
Mouser, as always, knows how to squeeze the most out of a small space. He is exceptional when choosing his casts.
Langton’s dances numbers are energetic and fit the Noir period. Costumes (Marychris Mass) are also spot on. Especially noteworthy are the puppets of “Frank” and the "Gatekeepers" by Bill Holznagel, they are truly amazing!
Coker is at his best as Dex, (paying) homage to a by-gone time. He has a velvet voice... smooth glide in his dancing and a chipper nature while enacting a hardboiled dick with guts of steel. Sean Ryan Lamb, as his faithful companion, Lobo, was particularly engaging, playing beautifully off Coker. And Illya Torres-Garner was delicious as the bad (Vampire) , a fiend you love to hate.
The songs were all well played. My favorites were “You Pull My Strings,” Delicious Love,” and “Old Dog, New Tricks.” This musical has potential to go “Big Time” and I hope they keep forging forward with it. I recommend this show. If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
Dennis Sparks- January 2016.