City of Angels

Jonathan Blandino (Stone) and Michelle Shuttleworth (Mallory)
The Playhouse Conservatory Company at Point Park University is presenting the Larry Gelbart (book), Cy Coleman (music) and David Zippel (lyrics) musical, City of Angels. The unique structure of this show presents the story of 1940s screenwriter Stine (Matt Lamb) and his personal troubles during the writing of a film adaptation of his novel - and at the same time, we see the movie itself, in all its film noir glory, played out scene-by-scene as Stine writes it. Matt Lamb as Stine leads the "Hollywood Cast" and Jonathan Blandino as the film's detective hero (and Stine's alter-ego) Stone leads the "Movie Cast" with many actors crossing over to play multiple parts in both scenarios. At several points in the show, characters from both sides meet as the stories intertwine. As would be expected in '40s "whodunits," City of Angels boasts many plot twists and turns, red herrings and false identities - enough so that careful thought may be required after the show to work out exactly what happened. However, it's very easy to just sit back and enjoy this game cast and the fabulous jazz-inspired Coleman/Zippel score.

City of Angels requires a large cast, many costume changes, and a creative set design for its 40 scenes. The sizeable Rockwell Theatre space is put to full use, as is the supply of student conservatory members. As the beleaguered writer Stine, Matt Lamb does a fine job and has the opportunity to show his estimable vocal skills in several songs, including the solo piece "Funny." Jonathan Blandino shows fierce dedication in his portrayal of a shamus à la Mickey Spillane; it's a demanding role, and Blandino is very impressive in his totally in-character delivery of the typical '40s film wisecracks and the solid vocal delivery of his songs. (Blandino showed the same commitment to character in his recent portrayal of David Greenglass in the Playhouse premier production of Red.) Together, Blandino and Lamb negotiate a great first act closer, the memorable, "You're Nothing Without Me."

A real standout in this cast is Mike Jansen as the "movie cast" Irwin S. Irving and the Hollywood mogul Buddy Fidler. The most outwardly funny role in the show, his portrayal of Buddy shows a great deal of comedic talent and timing. Jansen is a real audience-pleaser, but doesn't go overboard with this colorful character. Other performers of note include Katie Kirchner, who really shines in the roles of Stone's lost love Bobbie and Stine's wife Gabby, with a high point being her torch delivery of "With Every Breath I Take." Angela Orlandi, as Stone's "girl friday" Oolie and Stine's paramour Donna, evokes the quintessential '40s street smart woman who never gets the guy. Orlandi does a great job with another wonderful song, "You Can Always Count on Me." All are surrounded by well practiced and sound performers in supporting and ensemble parts. Overall, this is a challenging piece for college students, but they do a great job in creating the smoky, slightly shabby world of '40s Hollywood and the private eye films it produced. A very successful device, the acting out of "rewinding" the film for "retakes" and script changes, as Stine types away, is performed very well by all.

The creative set design by Stephanie Mayer involves roll-in three- and two-walled rooms, a catwalk with multiple doors, utilization of the "roof" of an office set piece, and a runway that traverses the center of the orchestra seating area. Stine often appears at his desk, typing his screenplay, and Atkinson took the opportunity of having Stine's first appearance end with ensemble members pushing the writer and his desk down the runway toward the back of the theater. Subsequent scenes in Stine's office are played there and, even though some audience members may have to turn their heads to see clearly, it is a practical use of the space and works very well. The very busy stage crew does a super job with the frequent changes required for his show. As might be expected with such a busy set, there were a few missed lighting cues and some changes were noisy on opening night, but overall, the coordinated efforts of all of the backstage staff are very successful.

Direction by Jack Allison is brisk and efficient, though little is done to keep the hectic plot of the second act from getting knotty. Choreography by Scott Wise is minimal but well done, and fight choreography by Shaun J. Rolly is commendable.

City of Angels at Pittsburgh Playhouse through February 29. For schedule and ticket information, call 412-621-4445 or visit

City of Angels. Pittsburgh Playhouse Conservatory Company at Point Park University. Ronald Allan-Lindblom, Artistic Producing Director. Book: Larry Gelbart. Music: Cy Coleman. Lyrics: David Zippel. Director: Jack Allison. Musical Director: Douglas Levine. Choreographer: Scott Wise. Scenic Designer: Stephanie Mayer. Costume Designer: Joan Markert. Lighting Designer: Andrew David Ostrowski. Sound Designer: Elizabeth Atkinson. Assistant Director: Erin Shrader.

Cast (in alphabetical order): Matthew Gary Alexander, Katie Allen, Jonathan Blandino, Case Dillard, Michael David Frankey, Oscar Gladman, Tiffany Green, Jamie Harper, Anthony Hollock, Jeffrey Holmes, Mike Jansen, Katie Kirchner, Jeff Kuhr, Matt Lamb, Ryan Lanning, Leyna M. McCarthy, Jason A. McIntyre, Kara Mikula, Elizabeth Mugridge, Angela Orlandi, Eddie Rabon, Jason A. Shavers, Erin Shrader, Michelle Shuttleworth, Jordan Spencer, Cameran Wareham, Tim Winski, Stephen Winterhalter.

See the current Schedule of Pittsburgh Theatre.

-- Ann Miner

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