Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

City of Angels
Theater Works
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's recent reviews of The Children's Hour, Goodnight Moon, Sweeney Todd, Becoming Dr. Ruth, The Bridges of Madison County, All My Sons, and Fences


Ian Christiansen and Matt Zimmerer
Photo by Wade Moran / Moran Imaging
The 1989 musical City of Angels won six Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Book and Score, and ran for more than two years on Broadway, yet it is a show that doesn't seem to be produced that often. Fortunately, Theater Works in Peoria is presenting the musical, featuring the creative team from their hit production of Follies from last season, and this production is as well conceived and thought out as the show itself.

Featuring a sensational jazz score, City of Angels moves between the beautiful, yet slightly seedy, technicolor world of 1940s Hollywood, where New York novelist Stine has been hired to adapt his book into a film, and the black and white world of the film he is writing. While the disillusioned Stine writes, rewrites, and deals with the temptations and distractions of Hollywood while his wife is back in New York, his screenplay comes to life in front of us in the form of a film noir mystery led by private-eye Stone. City of Angels is witty, glamorous, full of suspense, and completely original.

Larry Gelbart's book is complex yet full of wit and intrigue, going back and forth between the show's two worlds, and director Phillip Fazio has a handle on making sure we always know which world we are in. With 40 scene changes—including some in comical rewind, repeat, and slow motion mode when Stine is rewriting his script—and the fact that all of the actors, except the two leads, play a part in each story, there could be disastrous results. Fazio succeeds in several ways. He foregoes any large, cumbersome moving set pieces, instead using moveable furniture to swiftly transport us between the two parallel worlds. He has also assembled a stellar cast, including many top musical theatre performers from the Valley, who have no problem portraying their double roles. Cy Coleman's sumptuous music and David Zippel's intricate and clever lyrics are masterfully played by a smoking band led by music director Steve Hilderbrand. The decision to house the 14-piece band on the stage, stationed above the action within the impressive stationary set by Brett Aiken of the Hollywoodland skyline, is another master stroke by Fazio as it allows us to see, and clearly hear, the lush sounds they make without them being buried in the orchestra pit.

As Stone and Stine, Matt Zimmerer and Ian Christiansen are well cast. Zimmerer has the look and demeanor of the hard-boiled, beaten, and jaded detective. While he effectively portrays Stone as a private eye right out of numerous 1940s films, he also displays the right emotional connection to how he got to be the person he is, which we see play out in flashbacks. Christiansen is equally good in showing how Stine is simply trying to retain the artistic intent of his novel in the film adaptation while at the same time juggling his attempt to please his wife, his girlfriend, and his producer. Their voices are clear and strong in their numerous songs, including blending beautifully for their duet, "You're Nothing Without Me."

As Stine's meddling producer Buddy Fidler, who is a control freak, Hector Coris has a perfect fast, loud, fever pitch delivery, barking orders, line changes, and scenes to be cut without any regard for Stine's feelings—or anyone else he comes in contact with. Coris' portrayal makes you believe Buddy is the kind of self-centered man that would sell his mother for a three-picture deal. Alanna Kalbfleisch is perfection as both Stine's ally and occasional bedmate Donna and Stone's righthand woman and "good girl" Oolie. She effectively portrays both parts with the smarts, looks, and high intellect to hold her own with the boys. She also delivers a knock out version of "You Can Always Count on Me."

Both Sarah Wolter and Janine Colletti ooze sex appeal as the manipulative seductress Alaura Kingsley and her runaway stepdaughter Mallory whom she hires Stone to find. Both also do well in portraying their Hollywood counterparts, Buddy's wife and the calculating ingénue who is set to play Mallory in the film. Marie Gouba's rich voice excels in her solos as Stone's former lover, the nightclub singer Bobbi, as well as Gabby, Stine's high-minded wife who hates to see him sell out for Hollywood. Her rendition of "With Every Breath I Take" is appropriately sultry, and her duet with Kalbfleisch on "What You Don't Know About Women" is perfection.

In smaller roles, Rob Allocca has the right amount of charisma and chutzpah as Stone's nemesis, the Latino cop Munoz, and Ken Goodenberger's lush voice delivers the goods for crooner Jimmy Powers. Alexandra Utpadel, Beth Anne Johnson, Heather Fallon, Abigail Kimball, Joshua Vern, and Peter Walsworth portray a sextet of singers called The Angel City 6 (expanded from four in the original Broadway cast) and they deliver stunning, rich, and sumptuous back-up vocals throughout.

Tamara Treat's costumes are period perfect, in various shades of grey, black, and white for the noir scenes and pops of color for the Hollywood ones. Dave Nakagawa's lighting plot infuses the show with a combination of shadows and light that accentuate the film scenes.

Intelligent and well thought out musicals as well conceived as City of Angels come along very rarely. While it might prove a little challenging to less inclined theatergoers, due to the overlapping and complex storylines, Theater Works' production is a stellar achievement, with a superb cast, clever design elements, and clear and crisp direction.

City of Angels runs through March 6th, 2016, at Theater Works at 8355 West Peoria Avenue in Peoria. Tickets can be ordered at theaterworks.org or by calling 623 815-7930.

Directed by Phillip Fazio
Musical Direction: Steve Hilderbrand
Set Designer: Brett Aiken
Lighting Designer: Dave Nakagawa
Sound Designer: Matthew Sanders
Costume Designer: Tamara Treat
Hair and Make-Up Designer: Jacob Hamilton
Stage Manager: Andrea Small

Cast: (in order of appearance)
Stine: Ian Christiansen*
Stone: Matt Zimmerer*
Buddy Fidler/Irwin S. Irving: Hector Coris
Oolie/Donna: Alanna Kalbfleisch
Alaura Kingsley/Carla Haywood: Sarah Wolter*
Gabby/Bobbi: Marie Gouba
Munoz/Pancho Vargas: Rob Allocca
Mallory Kingsley/Avril Raines: Janine Colletti
The Angel City 6: Alexandra Utpadel
The Angel City 6: Beth Anne Johnson
The Angel City 6: Heather Fallon
The Angel City 6: Abigail Kimball
The Angel City 6: Joshua Vern
The Angel City 6: Peter Walsworth
Jimmy Powers: Ken Goodenberger
Orderly/Mahoney: Skyler Washburn
Orderly/Officer Pasco/Gene: Mark Tumey
Yamato/Cinematographer: Chris Chavez
Luther Kingsley/Werner Kriegler: Peter Cunniff
Commissioner Gaines/Shoeshine: Cody H. Seaver
Margie/Anna/Hairdresser: Erzsébet Szabó
Peter Kingsley/Gerald Pierce: Jonathan Ramirez
Sonny: Thomas Graca
Dr. Mandril/Gilbert (Barber): Michael Schwenke
Margaret/Stand In: Megan Farinella
Big Six/Studio Cop: Bob Downing
Del Da Costa: Steve Hilderbrand*

* Denotes members of Actors Equity Association


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