Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Lyric Stage Company of Boston Presents "City of Angels" - Devilishly Good Fun!

From the time I first listened to the Broadway cast album of "City of Angels," I have been a big fan of this Tony Award-winning musical.  The writing is superb - book by Larry Gelbart, lyrics by David Zippel,and music by Cy Coleman.  There is an intelligence to this show that serves to project both a celebration of Film Noir and a send-up of the genre.  It is a complex show to produce and a complicated story to tell.  The folks at Lyric Stage Company of Boston, under the inspired direction of Spiro Veloudos, have done justice to this dark gem of a show, and you have until May 2  to  watch the magic happen on the Lyric stage.

The story is really two stories at once - a film within a play.  The two levels of story are told in parallel - real life in Hollywood alongside "reel life" on the screen.  Successful novelist, Stine, has signed a three picture deal to turn his most recent novel, "City of Angels," into a screenplay.  Director/producer/mogul, Buddy Fidler, is intent on changing virtually everything about the script.  Complications and tensions arise.  On the film side of the story, Stine's protagonist is Stone, a private eye with a shady past as an LA cop.  Into his down-at-the-heels office walks Alaura Kingsley, a femme fatale of the first order.  And we are off and running with complications and lies, double-crosses and betrayals, beatings and shootings and other forms of Film Noir nastiness.  Except for the actors who play Stine and Stone, everyone else doubles as characters in real life and in the film.

This dual story is told on a stage that uses multiple levels.  The upper level is utilized primarily by Stone and his typewriter on one side and Buddy Fidler and his "casting desk" on the other side.  The lower level is where most of the action takes place.  The set was elegantly designed by Matt Whiton. Lighting by John Malinowski, Sound by David Wilson, Projection by Jonathan Carr and period Costumes by Elisabetta Polito create an atmosphere that exudes the 1940s and the German Expressionism that inspired Film Noir.

The play begins with a soaring Doo-Wop number by the Angel City 4 - Sarah Kornfeld, Elise Arsenault, Andrew Tung and Brandon Milardo.  They were backed up by a six piece orchestra under the Musical Direction of Catherine Stornetta.  This show runs at a brisk pace, and much of that pace is dictated by the non-stop cavalcade of catchy tunes.  The songs often serve to move the narrative foward and to stitch together the two levels of storytelling - real and reel.

Ed Hoopman as Stone
Angel City 4
Elise Arsenault, Brandon Milado
Andrew Tung and Sarah Kornfeld
"City of Angels"
The Lyric Stage of Boston
Through May 2

Mr. Veloudos has assembled a cast of strong voices and strong personalities.  The full cast list can be seen with their bios in the link below.

City of Angels Cast and Creative Team

Standing out among this ensemble are a number of actors, many of whom are familiar faces to Boston audiences.

Phil Tayler as Stine
Jennifer Ellis as Gabby
"City of Angels"The Lyric Stage of Boston
Through May 2
  • Phil Tayler portrays the screenwriter Stine.  He is finding his work heavily edited by his boss, Fidler, and his philandering life heavily redacted by his unhappy wife, Gabby.  Mr. Tayler shines brightest in his confrontations with Fidler, played by J.T. Turner, and in his interactions with his fictional creation Stone, played by Ed Hoopman.  The duet that he shares with Stone to close Act I is a highlight of the show.  The two of them - creature and creator - face off to proclaim that each is reliant on the other for his very existence. "You're Nothing Without Me" is a brilliant piece of writing brilliantly executed by these two professionals operating at the height of their game.
  • Ed Hoopman is a rock as Stone!  His sonorous baritone speaking voice gives gravitas to the private detective, and adds throw weight to the one-line zingers that the writers have given him as ammunition to hurl in foiling a succession of foes.  His singing voice blends well with that of Mr. Tayler in the dueling duet mentioned above.  It pairs well with the voice of Alaura Kingsley (Samantha Richert) in the double-entendre rich song "The Tennis Song." Mr. Hoopman is masterful in balancing a Humphrey Bogart suaveness with a Peter Sellers vulnerability that makes this performance both praiseworthy and memorable.
  • Jennifer Ellis plays the dual roles of Gabby, Stine's wife and Bobbi, Stone's ex-wife.  She is magnificent.  Her sultry "With Every Breath I Take" Torch Song as Bobbi is a highlight of the show.  Another memorable moment is her taunting and saucy number "It Needs Work" as Gabby puts Stine in his place as he lamely attempts to write an alibi for why Gabby's call to Stine's hotel room was answered by Donna (Leigh Barrett)
  • Leigh Barrett plays the roles of two women who allow themselves to be used by the men in their lives - Donna in Hollywood and Oolie in the movie.  She nearly steals the show in these roles.  As Oolie, she shares a duet with Ms. Ellis as Gabby that shows just how clueless Stone and Stine can be in dealing with the women in their lives.  "What You Don't Know About Women" is brilliantly staged, with Gabby in real life (stage right) appearing in living color and Oolie in the film (stage left) appearing in black and white and grays. Visually, this song and this scene set the tone for the show.  In Act II, Ms. Barrett sings a duet with herself as both Oolie and Donna. "You Can Always Count On Me" lays out her two characters' perennial curse of falling for guys who treat them as someone for men"to wipe their feet on."  Both women bemoan the fact that they allow themselves to be taken advantage of and never learn their lesson.  The song is brilliantly written, and Ms. Barrett nails it.  Brava!
  • Megham LaFlam is the sultry and dangerous Mallory, whose diasppearnace Stone has been asked to solve.  She shows up in an unexpected place and seductively sings to Stone "Lost and Found."  It is her moment in the show to shine, and she sparkles.
  • Tony Castellanos as Lieutenant Munoz is Stone's former partner on the LA Police Force, and now his sworn enemy.  He looks forward to seeing Stone sent to the gas chamber for a murder that Stone has been framed for.  He lays out his dastardly hopes and dreams in the charming and hilarious number "All You Have To Do Is Wait."  Choreographer Rachel Bertone deserves a shout-out for the staging of this number  The incongruent Conga Line is worth the price of admission!
Phil Tayler as Stone
Leigh Barrett as Donna
"City of Angels"
The Lyric Stage of Boston
Through May 2
If you are a fan of good theater and of Film Noire, this one is a no-brainer: order your tickets now. And hold on tight to those ducats.  You would not want them to end up in the Lost & Found!

Ed Hoopman as Stone
Samantha Richert as Alaura Kingsley
"City of Angels"
The Lyric Stage of Boston
Through May 2

 The musical will run at the Lyric  Stage Company of Boston through May 2.



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