This deliciously funny and inventive Broadway musical, playing here in a national touring version, is at once a spoof of 1940s detective thrillers and a tribute to all writers’ most endangered asset–their integrity. Larry Gelbart’s witty script crosscuts between the black-and-white universe of a film noir tough guy named Stone–a wisecracking private eye played here by Dick Powell look-alike Barry Williams–and the full-color life of Stine, the insecure novelist who invented Stone. Attempting his screenwriting debut, Stine struggles to preserve Stone’s grit while his pushy producer Buddy Fidler (the amusingly overbearing Charles Levin) fiddles with the script, eliminating troublesome concerns with politics, race, or reality; Stine’s artistic conflicts find their way hilariously into his work, prompting a surreal confrontation between the writer and his fictional alter ego. Michael Blakemore’s snazzy staging places the naturalistic real-life action side by side with the expressionistic movie sequences, underscoring the play’s rich verbal humor with ingenious visual gags: when Stine rewrites a page on his typewriter, the actors in the movie simultaneously replay their just-finished scene in reverse; Stone’s beating by a pair of thugs is performed as a Slaughter on Tenth Avenue-style jazz ballet; and the movie-within-the-musical’s artsy flashbacks are depicted by swirling, Wellesian fade-in effects. Cy Coleman and David Zippel’s big-band jazz score is tastily flavored with saxophone riffs, complex chords, shimmering bebop choral vocals, and torrid torch tunes that evoke the shadowy, smoky world of The Big Sleep and Farewell, My Lovely. Auditorium Theatre, through May 17 (50 E. Congress, 902-1500). Tuesdays and Thursdays, 7:30 PM; Wednesdays, 2 and 7:30 PM; Fridays, 8 PM; Saturdays, 2 and 8 PM; Sundays, 3 PM. $25-$50.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Ray Fisher.