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Marriott's 'City of Angels' a hilarious, hard-boiled Hollywood sendup

The Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire's sophisticated production of "City of Angels" goes out of its way to clue audiences in on the complicated stories about to unfold.

Right off the bat, set designer Thomas M. Ryan telegraphs the type of detective dramas that "City of Angels" is paying homage to by encircling audiences with 1940s and '50s cinema posters of emblematic "film noir" classics like "The Big Sleep" and "Double Indemnity." And then there's the preshow announcement and program insert that spell out all the doubling up and story shifting that's about to unfold.

That's because audiences need to give the intricate, savvy script their full attention. If they do, this Tony Award-winning musical comedy mystery, superbly staged by director Nick Bowling, will amply reward them.

Dreamed up by the late "M*A*S*H" and "Tootsie" writer Larry Gelbart, "City of Angels" hilariously alternates between writer Stine (Rod Thomas) and the black-and-white fictional film world inhabited by his private-eye creation Stone (Kevin Earley).

Unlike the mostly morally upstanding Stone, the flawed Stine increasingly loses integrity while adapting his detective novel into a screenplay amid all the bed-hopping and backstabbing of the Hollywood studio system (primarily embodied by manipulative producer/director Buddy Fidler in another great comic turn by Gene Weygandt).

Gelbart had a field day ribbing film noir conventions of tough-guy bravado and femme-fatale frame-ups, while also zeroing in on how the lures of Hollywood can creatively compromise an artist. The big band jazz score by composer Cy Coleman and lyricist David Zippel is no slouch either, vitally establishing smokey-room atmosphere and advancing the plot with plenty of toe-tapping tunes and witty word play.

But "City of Angels" also has its serious side, particularly in its large number of insightful female characters. Played by vocal and dramatic standouts like Danni Smith, Meghan Murphy and Summer Naomi Smart, these women are spot-on in their critiques of men -- even though some of the voiced-over attitudes toward their shapely looks do objectify them. There's also a passionate rant from the Latino police officer Lt. Munoz (Gabriel Ruiz) that jolts because its excoriation of white privilege sounds like it was ripped from today's headlines.

The Marriott cast and crew all rise to the demands of the meaty material, which makes "City of Angels" a heady and heavenly pleasure throughout. Much of that aural bliss comes from the synchronized harmonizing by crooner Jimmy Powers (Devin DeSantis) and the "Angel City 4" (Elizabeth Lanza, Patrick Lane, Michael Mahler and Cassie Slater).
Bowling and choreographer/fight director Tommy Rapley work wonders with costume designer Nancy Missimi and lighting designer Jesse Klug to delineate the different worlds of silver-screen mystery and superficially sunny Hollywood...the intimacy of the venue is a vital plus to keeping track of the actors' shifting identities.

Crucially, the interplay between Earley's Stone and Thomas' Stine provides a firm backbone to support all the chilly film murder conspiracies and silly behind-the-scenes studio shenanigans. Earley and Thomas' powerfully sung duets make for great closers to each act.

"City of Angels" makes no apologies for its script smarts or its difficult staging demands -- all the more reason not to miss the show at the Marriott.