He’s on to Something! (Or the Lame Detective), Metraform, at Annoyance Theatre. From the people who brought you Coed Prison Sluts and Your Butt comes a surprisingly sweet, relatively clean parody of detective noir films of the late 30s. This musical comedy is loosely structured as a whodunit, but don’t expect the piece to work on that level–He’s on to Something! doesn’t go so far as to comment on the genre’s Byzantine plot twists. Even the cast doesn’t seem to care whether private detective Frank Diamond cracks a 20-year-old case and discovers who killed the McGuffen twins.

The real joy is in the performances, each ensemble member committing wholeheartedly to his or her stereotype. Madeline Long gives a spectacularly deadpan performance as the tough-as-nails nightclub owner Belle, and Bob Ahlgren plays Diamond with an easy mix of stone-faced cool and stumbling inefficiency. Mary Ferruzza-Wachtel nearly walks away with the show as the sweet kid who hires Diamond to search for her father; she has a clumsy charm reminiscent of Gilda Radner, and her chirpy ballad of devotion to her only friend, a decapitated pet bird, is a high point. As the obligatory whore with the heart of gold, Rebecca Weinberg masters old-time movie mannerisms with uncanny accuracy. Rounding out the ensemble are Bob Morand as the thug, Pete Hulne as the lately returned soldier, and Helen O’Brien as Diamond’s brain-damaged secretary.

Much of the machine-gun patter here is improvised–no mean feat. Everyone has his or her nonplussed moments, but when this approach works, the verbal acrobatics can be impressive. More certain to please are the musical numbers (composed by Lisa Yeargan), delivered with dash, vigor, and surprising sureness.