Marriott's Virtuosic 'City of Angels' a Technicolor Musical with Film Noir Panache
Watching Marriott Theatre’s altogether spectacular production of “City of Angels” – a musical that celebrates 1940s film noir in the most brilliant Technicolor style – it quickly becomes clear why this endlessly clever, bitingly funny, razor sharp, playfully sophisticated 1989 Broadway musical is so rarely revived.
The reason is simple: This is a ferociously tricky show to carry off – one that requires an A-list director and a large, virtuosic cast, all of whom possess the kind of immense intelligence and stylistic savvy that can keep pace with this musical’s wildly ingenious split-screen book (by Larry Gelbart, creator of “M*A*S*H”), indescribably delicious lyrics (by David Zippel), and seductive score that plays deftly in the keys of jazz, doo wop, torch song and Broadway (the work of the masterful Cy Coleman, of “Sweet Charity” fame).
The Marriott has unquestionably tapped the ideal director for the job – Nick Bowling, whose glorious revival of “The King and I” (a show that could not be more different from “City of Angels”) graced the same stage last season. In turn, Bowling has assembled a group of performers with powerhouse voices, an uncanny knack for dual role-playing, and such a flair for the conceits of noir that even a vintage master of the likes of Dashiell Hammett would have been impressed.
The musical’s premise is classic; its execution is breakneck.
The literary-minded New York-based writer Stine (Rod Thomas, fresh from his star turn as Javert in the Paramount’s “Les Mis,” in a sensational about-face portrayal), who has a history of cheating on his wife, Gabby (Danni Smith, Jeff-winning star of “The Wild Party” who soars on a large stage), has moved to Hollywood to turn his hit detective novel into a screenplay. There he chafes under the script changes ordered by the decidedly anti-literary director-producer, Buddy (Gene Weygandt, never funnier, as the quintessential Hollywood mogul), whose wife, Carla (Summer Naomi Smart, easily Chicago’s answer to Jean Harlow), a head-turningly sexy actress, is to star in the film.
The principal character in Stine’s book is Stone (Kevin Earley, perfection as the man who never gets a break). A cop-turned-private detective in classic trench-coat and fedora style, he plies his trade in Los Angeles, a city described as akin to “a pretty girl with the clap.” Stone, who pines for the elusive lounge singer, Bobbi (Smith), becomes ensnared in a case that involves Alaura (Smart), a femme fatale with an older, mortally ill husband. The man’s beloved daughter, Mallory (Erin McGrath, just right as seductress and dimwitted film ingenue), appears to have disappeared, and Stone is hired to find her. But as he pursues the case he is subjected to far more than his share of violent beatings from thugs with peripheral interests in the matter.
It should be noted that both Stine and Stone are compulsive philanderers who continually leave their similarly smart, brassy and adoring secretaries, Donna and Ooolie in the lurch. (Both women are played with the blackly comic fervor of the unrequited by Meghan Murphy.) It also should be remarked that the two men engage in one of the best face-offs between a real-life writer and his more recognized fictional alter-ego ever imagined when they confront their co-dependence in the brilliant song, “You’re Nothing Without Me.”
The voices and characterizations are uniformly superb. In addition to the leads there is a standout turn by Gabriel Ruiz as Munoz, the cop with a longstanding resentment against Stone. And when your “ensemble” includes such top talents as David Lively, Michael Mahler, Dara Cameron, Elizabeth Lanza, Patrick Lane, Cassie Slater and Devin DeSantis, among others, you are in luck.
Ryan T. Nelson’s music direction, and the richly brassy orchestra conducted by Patti Garwood, are, as always, impeccable. And Tommy Rapley’s choreography (hilarious, expertly done “cinematic rewinds") and fight direction (with no punches spared), are as musical as the show. And Nancy Missimi’s vintage 1940s costumes rival anything the “Mad Men” designers did for the 1960s.
This is the sort of revival that should make “City of Angels” a hot property all over again.