Los Angeles Theater Preview: CITY OF ANGELS (Musical Theatre Guild in Santa Monica)

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by Tony Frankel on June 10, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles


The angels of concert-staged-reading productions come winging into town this week with a production of City of Angels, the 1989 musical spoof and homage to hard-boiled detective fiction, 1940s film noir genre, and the men who made both. This rarely produced gem was a huge hit, playing 879 performances on Broadway. Musical Theatre Guild, the winner of the Los Angeles Drama Critic’s Circle Margaret Harford Award for sustained excellence in the theatre, will conclude their 2013-2014 season with a one-night-only concert of this hysterical, jazzy musical at the Moss Theatre at New Roads School in Santa Monica on Sunday, June 15, 2014 at 7:00 pm.

larry gelbartThe ridiculously clever and riotously funny book by Larry Gelbart (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Tootsie, M*A*S*H) twists together two tales: Stine is a novelist who becomes mired in the trials and tribulations of Tinseltown as he attempts to turn his own book into a screenplay without becoming a humiliating sellout. The other story concerns the hard-knock adventures of Stine’s alter-ego, a Philip Marlowe/Sam Spade-type private eye named Stone, who sidles through a Hollywood netherworld of vicious thugs and femmes fatales. As Stine turns the people in his life into the script’s characters, the juxtaposition of real life and “reel-life” occurs. The two stories are, in effect, happening simultaneously. While Stine and Stone are each played by one actor, other actors frequently play dual roles of both real life and “reel-life” characters.

City of Angels (unrelated to the 1998 film of the same name) is awash with crackerjack one-liners paired with some of the best double-talk and witty dialogue ever written for a musical. A few samples from the top of the show: “L.A., truth to City-of-Angels-Playbilltell’s, not much different than a pretty girl with the clap.” “She had the kind of face a man could hang a dream on, a body that made the Venus Di Milo look all thumbs, and only the floor kept her legs from going on forever.” “Monday. What other day works so hard at reminding you not to get your hopes up ‘cause it’s gonna be coming around again real soon?”

The New York Times’ Frank Rich wrote, “This is an evening in which even a throwaway wisecrack spreads laughter like wildfire through the house, until finally the roars from the balcony merge with those from the orchestra and the pandemonium takes on a life of its own. Only the fear of missing the next gag quiets the audience down. To make matters sweeter, the jokes sometimes subside just long enough to permit a show-stopping song or performance or two to make their own ruckus at center stage.”

Cy ColemanThose songs, Cy Coleman’s swingy jazz and torchy ballads (lyrics by David Zippel), reflect both the Broadway musical we are seeing and the 1940’s film noir detective movie it contains. Coleman’s music is very much in the various styles of the period, ranging from big-band swing and torch songs to group vocals and Latin numbers. Overall, the score is a mélange of jazz and bebop patter styles, movie-type scoring, radio crooning, and parodies of standard songs.

Coleman (Sweet Charity, Barnum, On the Twentieth Century), who wrote many a standard himself (“Witchcraft,” “The Best Is Yet to Come”) drew on his jazz background to create, as far as I know, the first full-blown jazz score for the Broadway stage. City of Angels is, he said, his most personal score in a theatrical songwriting career that spanned three decades. “To put it brazenly, I wanted to do something that I think I’m uniquely qualified to do in the theater, which is to present real jazz as opposed to pastiche or the kind of choreographed jazz I’ve written for other shows. By real jazz I mean music whose rhythmic phrases you can’t describe but when you’re snapping fingers to it, you say, ‘This swings.’”

The cast of MTG's CITY OF ANGELSMTG’s production, under the production supervision of Damon Kirsche, will be directed by Joel Bishoff with musical direction by Brad Ellis. The best and brightest Broadway talent around will be on board. Starring as writer Stein and detective Stone are Stan Chandler and Kevin Symons. Fellow MTG company members rounding out the principal cast include Melissa Lyons Caldretti, Christopher Carothers, Melissa Fahn, Zachary Ford, David Holmes, Paul Keith, Roy Leake, Jr., Ashley Fox Linton, Tracy Lore, Glenn Shiroma and John Sloman. The Manhattan Transfer-like Greek chorus, which sings close, swinging harmony while bridging some of the scenes, will be played by guest artists Laura Dickenson, Meloney Collins, Jordan Lamoureux and Fletcher Sheridan.

City of Angels
Musical Theatre Guild
Moss Theatre at New Roads School
3131 Olympic Blvd. in Santa Monica
Sunday, June 15, 2014 at 7 pm
for tickets, call 818-848-6844 or visit www.musicaltheatreguild.com

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