City of Angels
Set in 1940s Hollywood, City of Angels cuts back and forth between the real world of novelist Stine (Phil Tayler) writing a screenplay about his fictional detective, and the reel world of film noir where Stone (Ed Hoopman) plays out his colorful adventures in black and white. While the former struggles creatively and must answer to Buddy Fidler (J.T. Turner), an egomaniacal movie mogul, and Gabby (Jennifer Ellis), his disappointed wife, the private eye is surrounded by deceitful dames, thugs, a cop with a grudge, and Oolie (Leigh Barrett), a secretary who is loyal to the nth degree. The characters are as colorful as the adventures, whether in the real or the reel world, and everyone in the cast (except for Taylor and Hoopman) does double duty to make them come alive on stage and screen.
Gelbart's script is funny and sardonic, and Zippel's lyrics are funny and clever, advancing the story and providing character development with parallels between reality and the fictional realm. Hoopman excels as the jaded p.i. with a soft spot for the ladies, even when he knows there will be trouble ahead. He has great chemistry with Samantha Richert (sultry as Alaura Kingsley, a femme fatale), Meghan LaFlam (sassy as Mallory Kingsley, Alaura's missing stepdaughter) and Barrett, and shows how haunted Stone is by his lost love Bobbi (Ellis). In his scenes with his creator, he bristles at things that Stine writes that mess with his sense of himself and pushes back to try to get his way ("You're Nothing Without Me"). The back-and-forth with Lieutenant Muņoz, that cop with the grudge, is snappy and dripping with their dislike for each other. (Tony Castellanos brings the house down with Muņoz's revenge song "All You Have To Do Is Wait.")
Barrett raises her own bar substantially with her sympathetic portrayal of hard-boiled Oolie, the unlucky in love schlimazel who does her best to keep Stone alive, out of jail and out of hock. In the real world, she is Fidler's secretary Donna who gets bedded by Stine, but she fares better than her fictional counterpart. Both women are strong in their own way and Barrett does a good job of differentiating them. She also has a couple of great songs, powerfully pairing on one with Ellis ("What You Don't Know About Women"), and splitting her personalities (a duet with herself?) for the other ("You Can Always Count On Me"). As Bobbi, Ellis gets to showcase her sublime voice and break our hearts at the same time ("With Every Breath I Take"), and morphs into the self-assured Gabby who is not buying what her husband is selling ("It Needs Work").
Tayler plays the only character restricted to the real world and is somewhat weighed down by it. He conveys the aggravation and stress that Stine feels, and he nails his songs, but he is missing the arrogance and smarminess. The usually charming actor lacks charisma in his interpretation of Stine as a ladies man, leading one to wonder how Donna, who has been around the block a few times, falls so easily under his spell. In his early scenes with Gabby, he goes through the motions of being the reformed husband, but is not convincing. When he comes home from L.A. to fix things, the strength and confidence in Ellis' Gabby works against Tayler who should be commanding, if apologetic, but winds up looking like a scolded child.
As for the rest of the company, Turner bursts out of the starting gate in full Fidler mode, obviously a big man with a big ego and big appetites. Davron S. Monroe is dapper and in fine voice as Jimmy Powers, the crooner on the radio. Patrick Varner (Peter Kingsley), Michael Levesque (Luther Kingsley), Damon Singletary (a thug/Dr. Mandril) and Margarita Martinez (a thug/a Madam) make their presence felt in a variety of roles. The quartet of Sarah Kornfeld, Elise Arsenault, Andrew Tung and Brandon Milardo comprise Angel City 4, the background singers whose voices blend with precision and style. They set the musical tone with the opening "Theme from City of Angels" and also fill out the ensemble as party guests and servants.
The design team of Matt Whiton (scenic), John Malinowski (lighting), Johnathan Carr (projection), and Elisabetta Polito (costume) meets the challenge of creating two worlds, one in color and one in black and white, and the cast and crew move furniture and props on and off the stage with the precision of a race car pit crew. A movie screen is used effectively for the title sequence, as well as several times throughout the show when projections mimic traveling down a long corridor or running through streets. Sound designer David Wilson enhances the atmosphere with gun shots, radio broadcasts and a thunderstorm, and maintains a good balance between the vocalists and musicians. With nearly two dozen musical numbers, Rachel Bertone has an impact with her choreography and musical staging that brings out the flavor of the 1940s.
City of Angels is the whole package, full of style and played with gusto. Veloudos and his team, especially including the stage managers Natalie A. Lynch and Stephanie M. Holmes, work as effectively offstage as on to take us on a thrill ride. Can't make up your mind whether to go to the movies or to a stage show? Don't sweat it, you get two for the price of one at the Lyric Stage Company.
City of Angels performances through May 2, 2015, at Lyric Stage Company of Boston, 140 Clarendon Street, Boston, MA; Box Office 617-585-5678 or www.lyricstage.com.
Book by Larry Gelbart, Music by Cy Coleman, Lyrics by David Zippel, Vocal arrangements by Cy Coleman and Yaron Gershovsky, Directed by Spiro Veloudos; Music Director, Catherine Stornetta; Choreography and Musical Staging by Rachel Bertone; Scenic Design, Matt Whiton; Costume Design, Elisabetta Polito; Lighting Design, John Malinowski; Sound Design, David Wilson; Projection Design, Johnathan Carr; Fight Choreography, J.T. Turner; Production Stage Manager, Natalie A. Lynch; Assistant Stage Manager, Stephanie M. Holmes
Cast: Phil Tayler, Ed Hoopman, Jennifer Ellis, Leigh Barrett, J.T. Turner, Samantha Richert, Meghan LaFlam, Tony Castellanos, Patrick Varner, Michael Levesque, Damon Singletary, Margarita Martinez, Davron S. Monroe, Sarah Kornfeld, Elise Arsenault, Andrew Tung, Brandon Milardo; Davron S. Monroe, Dance Captain; J.T. Turner, Fight Captain