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Heavenly 'City of Angels' at Marriott

4 out Of 4 stars

City of Angels, the 1989 Tony Award winning best musical, happens to be one of my favorite shows. I dare to say I have listened to the Original Broadway Cast Recording literally hundreds of times over the years. Cy Coleman’s 1940’s big-band inspired score and David Zippel’s witty lyrics, filled with delicious double entendre (especially in The Tennis Song) is a pure stroke of genius. So, with this in mind I made my way out to Lincolnshire with high hopes. City of Angels is a clever show about Hollywood and the making of a classic 1940’s, film-noir detective story. It’s a story within in a story that follows both the writer Stine and his movie alter ego, the hard scrabble detective Stone. Given the demands of this show, with its complex dual plot lines, multiple scene locations and two sets of costumes (executed beautifully by the always reliable Nancy Missimi with one set in color to create the real world and one set in black and white to create the movie world) the show is somewhat difficult to produce and unfortunately doesn’t get mounted frequently. Luckily for us The Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire has undertaken all the challenges and scored with pure musical theatre magic.

Rod Thomas (Stine) and Kevin Early (Stone) lead the terrific cast. They both embody their roles to perfection and sing with strong full voices that wrap around Coleman and Zippel’s score like it was written for them. Separately they are dynamic, but when they come together as in the first act closer, You’re Nothing Without Me, they are unbeatable. Danni Smith in the dual roles of Gabby, Stine’s wife and Bobbi, Stone’s ex-girlfriend, possesses all the qualities necessary for her demanding turn as put upon wife and sultry chanteuse. Although in her big Act I number, With Every Breath I Take, the key, which I believe was different than the original, didn’t seem to suit her or the song quite right. However, this is a small quibble and Smith certainly had other opportunities to show us her vocal prowess. Gene Weygandt, as Buddy the conniving and controlling producer and Irwin S. Irving the slick and slimy producer, gives his usual terrific performance. Meghan Murphy plays Donna, Buddy’s secretary and Oolie, Stone’s secretary. These two characters more closely resemble each other in the dual plot lines than most and Murphy brings enough sass and crass to both with just enough difference to make both women believable and unique. Murphy also gets to sing my favorite song in the show, You Can Always Count on Me, while she morphs from Oolie to Donna mid song, which pretty much brought the house down. However, as good as she was throughout the show and in this number, I would have liked her to show a bit more of how she owned her situation as the woman who always chooses the wrong guy rather than seeming a bit angry about her lot in life. But, once again this is a very small quibble. Summer Naomi Smart plays the femme fatale Alaura with nuanced precision and also brings the right amount of crass to her dual role as Carla, Buddy’s wife; and Erin McGrath sizzles in her dual sexpot roles as Mallory and Avril.

The entire production runs smoothly and seamlessly throughout the many scene changes, thanks to the expert direction of Nick Bowling. Staging this show on a traditional proscenium stage has its challenges, but producing it in the round creates a whole new set of issues and could have been a disaster. Fortunately Bowling is in full control of the proceedings and the storytelling and which “plot” we are watching is never confusing. He is aided by the marvelous lighting design of Jesse Klug; the sensational sound design of Robert E. Gilmartin; and the period inspired set design by Thomas M. Ryan. Then there is the music, the glorious music played by a pit band that sounds like they just stepped out of a studio sound stage of the 1940’s with musical supervision by Patti Garwood.

You probably won’t have the chance again anytime soon to see a production of City of Angels and I’d go as far as saying that if you do it definitely won’t be as good as this one. So, jump in the car and make the trip to The Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire and I promise, you’ll be glad you did and soon you too will be listening to the Original Cast Recording of the Broadway show on repeat just like me.