To wrap up the 2015-16 San Francisco Playhouse season, Directors Bill English and Susi Damilano have pulled out all stops with a hugely ambitious revival of City of Angels – and it’s just fabulous!
Winner of six 1990 Tony Awards – including best musical, original score (Cy Coleman), book (Larry Gelbart) and lyrics (David Zippel) – and an Olivier Award for Best New Musical, City of Angels is a brilliantly conceived production, set in 1940s Los Angeles. It tells of a struggling novelist, Stine, who’s working on the screenplay for what he believes is his masterpiece, but which the bombastic Hollywood producer, Buddy, insists on tearing to shreds every time he’s presented with the latest copy.
Stine’s plot is set in the murky world of private detectives, duplicity, beguiling women, money and murder. Stone is the private eye who, against his better judgement, takes on a case to find the missing daughter – a beautiful ‘bad’ girl – of a voluptuous woman whose husband is pretty much on his last legs and whom she plans to have bumped off so that she can get her hands on his money. Stone might have guessed that this bizarre case would lead to the most extraordinary series of events – mishaps, mistaken identity, bed-hopping and violence – they’re all there in a roller-coaster ride with plenty of laughs.
As Stine bashes away on his typewriter, we see the action of his film noir – entitled City of Angels – being played out, in ‘black and white’, on a raised platform behind him, while the actuality of his life moves along front of stage. The two plots then begin merging and drifting, with Stine’s fictional characters taking on a reality of their own. His struggle to separate fiction from actuality isn’t helped by the fact that he’s based some of these characters on people in his actual life, which has hilarious consequences, as the penny drops, and the audience gleefully recognizes the ‘alter egos’ of the film stars.
There are 36 characters, played by 11 cast members, some of whom, of course, are playing both their actual and their film characters – and they’re all tremendous. Jeffrey Brian Adams (always great box office) plays the down-trodden Stine who ultimately finds his inner machismo. Ryan Drummond is the outrageous Hollywood producer Buddy, and Brandon Dahlquist plays the somewhat world-weary private eye, Stone.
The production is brilliantly directed by Bill English who’s also responsible for the innovative set. His ‘rewind’ sequences are simply amazing – winning spontaneous outbursts of applause in their own right. And Music Director Dave Dobrusky and the orchestra do a grand job with the jazzy score.
This is an extremely clever, and very funny musical – with just enough intrigue to keep your mind on the hop throughout. It’s a good old-fashioned, marvelously entertaining piece of theater. You won’t want to miss it!
City of Angels runs at the San Francisco Playhouse until September 17. For more information, and for tickets, visit the Playhouse website.
Photographs by Jessica Palopoli