july 2017 | Volume 157
City of Angels is an extraordinary achievement: an elaborate, super-clever independent production of an elaborate, super-clever film noir musical with a first-rate cast and amazing production values.
But with all due respect to the artists who put it together – is it worth all the effort?
Jennifer Copping’s production, co-directed by Sylvia M. Zaradic, features a cast of 20 plus a tight five-piece orchestra. A substantial portion of the show takes place on grainy black-and-white film, projected at both ends of the large alley-style stage. The film segments are as professionally done as the live performances, and nicely integrated into the overall show, which consists of a play- and movie-within-a-play.
On one side of the stage is the movie-in-progress, a Hollywood film noir. Sample voice-over dialogue: “Only the floor kept her legs from going on forever.”
The principals are hard-ass private eye Stone (Michael Lomenda), his hard-ass girl Friday Oolie (Jennifer Copping), Stone’s ex-fiancée, chanteuse Bobbi (Caitlin Clugston), sexy femme fatale Alaura Kingsley (Crystal Balint), and Alaura’s stepdaughter, even sexier femme fatale Mallory (Miranda MacDougall).
On the other side is the “real” Hollywood: harried screenwriter Stine (Donal Thoms-Cappello) and larger-than-life, super-obnoxious-Trump-like producer/director Buddy Fidler (Paul Herbert), who makes Stine’s life hell.
Every principal actor except Lomenda and Thoms-Cappello appears as her or his equivalent on both sides of the divide.
Each of these performers, without exception, is terrific. Ditto for Tim Perez as Det. Munoz in the staged movie.
The singing is outstanding, especially from Clugston. Thoms-Cappello, MacDougall and Chase Sander. There’s also a quartet (Jesse Alvarez, Janet Gigliotti, Thomas King and Lindsay Warnock) that does some very fine scatting and harmonies. Kudos to music director and arranger Angus Kellett.
Zippel’s lyrics are frequently clever (“If you’re not celibate/We can raise hell a bit”) and the show features a handful of fine songs, although I found the score undistinguished and many of the songs somewhat redundant. At times I wondered why the show was a musical at all since the stories are told quite effectively without the songs.
Gelbart nails the noir-style characterizations, its plot twists and dialogue, and he very cleverly intertwines the Stone film-in-progress with Stine and Fidler’s arguments about the screenplay. When Fidler forces Stine to rewrite a scene, the actors in the “movie” replay the action and dialogue backwards, as if a film reel were being rewound. These are also all nicely staged.
And the actors look great in Stephanie Kong’s costumes and wigs.
But despite the clever add-ons and slick, entertaining production, City of Angels is ultimately just another film noir send-up, a genre too familiar to offer much originality or depth. A little of this goes a long way. Yet the show goes on for three hours. I’ve seen productions of King Lear that were shorter.
The production, too, feels top-heavy. The stage is enormously long, and the alley seating doesn’t provide great sightlines when the action is at the far end from where you’re sitting. As well, I lost count of the scene changes. Designer John R. Taylor has provided a large number of handsome, functional set pieces, which cast members move on and off quickly and slickly in half-light with music.
But by the end I wanted less furniture-moving and a leaner, more brisk drive to the end of what felt, despite the fun, like a long night.
get in touch with vancouverplays:
Vancouver's arts and culture website providing theatre news, previews and reviews