If you ask me…
- Tom Holehan
Far From Heavenly “Angels” at Goodspeed
The rarely produced “City of Angels” is a bit of a mixed blessing in its current incarnation at Goodspeed Musicals. On the plus side, this Cy Coleman musical (with lyrics by David Zippel) has one of the most cleverly conceived books (by Larry Gelbart) ever devised for Broadway and it’s a pleasure to experience whenever afforded the chance. Unfortunately, it is this brilliant book that seems in the most need of assistance at the East Haddam theatre.
Using as its basis the great film noir movies of the 1940s, “City of Angels” tells parallel stories about a popular author of detective fiction and his private eye hero. The author has been enlisted by Hollywood to turn one of his books into a new movie and we see that movie come to life (in black and white, of course) as the writer begins to learn more from his hero about his own life. It’s an ingenious concept and the hard-boiled dialogue and overly convoluted plot (think “Maltese Falcon” meets “Double Indemnity”) is a joy to unravel.
The problems at Goodspeed, however, seem to lay in the heavy-handed approach that director Darko Tresnjak has taken with the material. Dialogue that should be rapid-fire seems sluggish and uncertain in many of the principal characters’ mouths and scenes that should snap often just sit there. It doesn’t help that both his lead players (D.B. Bonds as the writer, Burke Moses as the detective), although fine vocally, seem hesitant and reluctant in their roles. In addition there is a near-disastrous performance by Jay Russell as a control-freak director and womanizing producer. The actor has some of the best and funniest dialogue in the musical but in the hands of Mr. Russell the role is almost completely laugh-free.
The woman fare better here especially Nancy Anderson who plays two very different secretaries and does a swell job as both of them singing different versions of the jaunty “You Can Always Count on Me.” Liz Pearce is a riot of poses and attitude as the movie’s leggy femme fatale, Alaura Kingsley, while talented Laurie Wells is unrecognizable playing both a bluesy lounge singer and the writer’s neglected wife.
Lighting Designer John Lasiter’s dramatic shadows highlight the striking series of projections designed by Shawn Boyle which cleverly delineate the “real” world from the movie fantasy. Tracy Christensen’s costuming also succeeds in capturing the right look for both worlds. The elements are certainly there for a satisfying production of this challenging musical, but in East Haddam it has yet to fully come together.
“City of Angles” continues at Goodspeed Musical in East Haddam through Sunday, November 27th. For further information and ticket reservations, call the theatre box office at 860.873.8668 or visit: www.lgoodspeed.org.
Tom Holehan is Co-chairman of the Connecticut Critics Circle and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: email@example.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.