First performed on Broadway 25 years ago, Larry Gelbart’s City of Angels exquisitely directed by Josie Rourke, is witty, engaging and a delightfully entertaining show.
Set in Hollywood of the 1940s, where film producers/directors are Gods and screenwriters and actors are at their mercy. This is a city where money and hunger for fame allure and consume.
An inspired split-level play exposes reality in fiction and illusion in reality. The two plots weave together with elements redolent of Raymond Chandler and Luigi Pirandello.
Stine (Hadley Fraser), an East Coast crime writer, whose dream of seeing his name splashed in large bright letters on the silver screen seems within reach when invited by the mogul producer/director, Buddy Fidler (Peter Polycarpou), to come to Hollywood and translate his novel City of Angels into a screenplay. The novel’s main protagonist is Mr Stone (Tam Mutu), an ex-police officer turned private detective. Scenes from the evolving screenplay take on a life of their own but the characters, like puppets, are at the mercy of their author, Stine, and the director/producer, Buddy Fidler. The balance of power between the different characters tilts and shifts leaving ripples of dramatic tension fused with wit and humour.
Stine’s fictional alter ego, Stone, and his assistant, Oolie (Rebecca Trehearn), are hired by Alaura Kingsley (Kathrine Kelly), a striking female who comes to the office ‘ wearing all year’s salary’, oozing social and sexual confidence. She persuades him to track down her stepdaughter, Mallory Kingsley (Samantha Barks). His misgivings disappear with the femme fatale seductive figure and the offer where the dollar sign is followed by ‘irresistible figures’. Both Stine and Stone compromise principles and neither need much persuading to yield to sexual and monetary temptations. Both struggle with self-identity.
Apart from Stine and Stone, the actors portraying the characters in Stine’s movie, double as the Hollywood executives and actors that Stine encounters.
Rosalie Craig who, in real life, is married to Hadley Fraser (Stine), plays Stine’s wife Gabby, and also Stone’s lost love, Bobbi. Samantha Barks takes on the dual role of missing girl Mallory Kingsley and Hollywood actress Avril Raines.
These dual roles cleverly reflect each other.
The musical is homage to the film noir genre of motion pictures that rose to prominence in the 1940s. Cy Coleman’s score has jazzy beat of 1940s, giving the cast to rap up scores and lyrics that capture the character’s perception of her/his social reality, take Stone and Stine teasing duet “You’re Nothing Without Me” or the superb performance by Rebecca Trehearn as Stine’s lovelorn sidekick, Oolie when sardonically, yet movingly, in “You Can Always Count On Me” she ‘confesses’
I’m one of a long line of good girls
Who choose the wrong guy to be sweet on
The girl with a face that says welcome
That men can wipe their feet on
Robert Jones’s grey, high, two level set, with manuscript-stacked wall with grey book-size panels below, echoing something of the film noir yet, like the entwining plots and characters, the set fuses periods and scenes.
This is a superb production of a stimulating musical comedy.