City of Angels Reaches New Heights on Goodspeed Stage
By Amy J. Barry
The time frame of City of Angels: the 1940s, the place: Hollywood, and even the characters: a detective, a few thugs, a couple of divas, a frustrated writer, a greedy mogul, a Gal Friday, a betrayed wife, are what one would expect in a Goodspeed production. But everything else about this show is a departure, and a bit risque, for the theater that typically offers up traditional vintage musicals.
City of Angels is also a newer musical, despite it’s film noir theme, than is usually presented at the Goodspeed. It opened on Broadway in 1989 and ran for four years, 878 performances, before closing down and is rarely produced by regional theaters. But it has gathered an enthusiastic cult following, particularly among musical theater types.
Directed with plenty of style and tongue-in-cheek humor by Darko Tresnjak, the sophisticated show works well on many levels. If you’re looking for complex choreographed dance numbers and lots of memorable tunes you may be disappointed.
But a smart script (book by Larry Gelbart), a jazzy score (Cy Coleman), witty lyrics ( David Zippel), and a smooth-talking, quick-with-a-comeback cast of characters more than makes up for predictable song and dance routines.
Two story lines run side-by-side and the stage is divided between the black-and-white world of the movies -- in which a detective drama is taking place -- and a real time, full-color comedy, comprised of the Hollywood execs and actors making the movie.
The double plot is more complicated to explain than to experience due to the ingenious sets (David Gordon), lighting (John Lasiter), projections (Shawn Boyle), and costumes by Tracy Christensen that so clearly and cleverly delineate the two different worlds—even when they collide.
Stine (D.B. Bonds) is adapting his novel, City of Angels, to the big screen for hotshot movie producer/director Buddy Fidler (Jay Russell) and the acrimonious relationship between principled Stine and bottom-line Buddy is nimbly played out as Buddy constantly demands rewrites -- “Too many words; give me pictures, paint me scenes.” We watch the movie quite literally change in mid-scene and mid-sentence as Stine furiously types away at his revisions.
Romantic complications occur in the ‘real-life’ plot when Stine, who is married to Gabby (Laurie Wells), has an affair with Buddy’s secretary, Donna (Nancy Anderson).
Stone (Burke Moses) is the star of the Hollywood movie and Moses is funny as hell as the '40s cliches spouting, handsome detective with his dark hair severely parted on the side. Anderson also plays Oolie, Stone’s fiercely loyal secretary and she seamlessly alternates between the sexy, free spirited Donna and her alter-ego, the shy and receding Oolie -- even switching personas mid-song in the lovely number, “Count on Me.”
Socialite Alaura Kingsley (Liz Pearce) hires Stone to find her missing stepdaughter Mallory Kingsley (Kathleen Rooney). We hear a voice-over of what Stone is thinking when the gorgeous Alaura arrives: “Only the floor kept her legs from going on forever” -- typical of the show’s many wonderful one-liners.
Mallory, who shows up later in bed in Stone’s bungalow performs the totally seductive “Lost and Found” with Stone remarking, “For a missing girl, there’s not a whole lot missing.”
Stone is beaten up by thugs, framed for a murder, and as Stine keeps being forced to do rewrites, the plotline gets increasingly tangled and too involved and character-laden to try to explain in a review. Suffice to say, Stine finally reaches his breaking point and quits. He realizes it’s not worth selling his soul, wisely stating, “It’s time I got back to the reality of fiction.”
The show is long with 21 scenes in Act 1 and 19 in Act II, but the tightly orchestrated, fast-paced action and quick-witted dialogue keeps it moving, and with such visual interest, it’s easy to stay engaged throughout the performance.
City of Angels continues through Nov. 27 at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam. For tickets call the box office at 860-873-8668 or online at www.goodspeed.org.
This review appears in Shore Publishing Community Newspapers and online Zip06.com, Nov. 3, 2011.