Thursday, 7 December 2006

City of Angels, Dec 7, 2006

City of Angels
Music by Cy Coleman, Book by Larry Gelbart, Lyrics by David Zippel
fortyfivedownstairs, Wed to Sat 8pm,  Dec 7 to 16, 2006
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

City of Angels is a Film Noir musical set in the 1940s but written in the late 80s. It has a stellar pedigree of writers (Cy Coleman, Larry Gelbart, David Zippel), won six Tony Awards in 1990 and the Edgar Award for Best Play.

Coleman’s score is steeped in the jazz of the 40s and is complemented by Zippel’s complex lyrics that reflect the rhythms and rhymes of the period.

Gelbart constructs a cunning dual plotline. Hero number one is Stine (Mark Doggett) who is writing screenplay of his own detective novel for Buddy (Chris Watkins), the fast-talking Hollywood studio boss. Buddy controls both the script and Stine’s career.

Meanwhile, Stine’s characters come to life in a parallel tale inside the movie script. Stine’s hard-nosed gumshoe, Stone (Tom Stringer), assisted by his loyal secretary, Oolie (Nicolette Minster), struggles to solve the mystery of a missing girl, to resist the wily femme fatale, Alaura (Jane Harber), and to avoid being beaten, shot and arrested.

Gelbart’s script is homage to Raymond Chandler. “She was a handful - maybe two if you played your cards right,” quips Stone. The dialogue is colourful and witty and the twin stories are woven together with characters having counterparts in each story.

Commonly, the movie scenes are played in black and white and the Hollywood writer’s scenes are in colour. This production uses a clever, cartoon-like Noir backdrop (Sahr Willis) for both realities.

Doggett is compelling as Stine, with a rich, soaring voice. His rendition of Double Talk and of Stine’s solo, Funny, were rivetting and his duo with Stringer, You’re Nothing Without Me, was exhilarating and impassioned.

Stringer plays Stone with a laconic ease although his character is more downbeat than suave and sexy. Harber has a feline seductive quality in her twin sex-kitten roles while Minster sings the lament of the secretaries, You Can Always Count on Me, with great conviction.

There is a good support cast in Sarah Louise Younger, Paul Gartside, Margaret Paul and Jeremy Hopkins. The Angel City quartet, singing the quirky chorus numbers, is to be commended for its truth to the 40s style and the seven-piece band, under Adrian Portell, was tight and polished.

Although some of the acting and voices are uneven, director, Peter Mattessi, has created a charming show.

By Kate Herbert

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