Presented by Lyric Stage Co. of Boston
Book by Larry Gelbart
Music by Cy Coleman
Lyrics by David Zippel
Vocal arrangements by Cy Coleman and Yaron Gershovsky
Directed by Spiro Veloudos
Music direction by Catherine Stornetta
Choreography & musical staging by Rachel Bertone
Review by Kitty Drexel
(Boston, MA) City of Angels pays homage to film noir with tongue firmly in cheek sexual innuendo and integrated design film tropes. The Lyric Stage Co. of Boston brings life to this beloved musical with panache and two shakes of wit with inspired clever projection design by Jonathan Carr and zippy choreography by Rachel Bertone. This production is great fun. The book and lyrics are clever. The score, vocal and instrumental, is inherently singable. The artistic upsides far outweigh the downsides. An evening spent at COA is one well spent.
COA is about men who make big mistakes while women run circles around them. The musical is told through simultaneous storylines: “real” Hollywood and fictional Los Angeles. In real Hollywood, Stine (Lyric golden boy Phil Tayler) is a neurotic, sell-out ghost writer working on a noir script for Buddy Fidler (JT Turner). The script for “City of Angels” takes on a life of its own as leading man P.I. Stone (Ed Hoopman) attempts to solve a high stakes missing person/murder/assault case. A veritable chorus line of femme fatales distract Stine and Stone with their existence by being sexy and dangerous. Only Donna/Oolie (Leigh Barrett) has the sense to keep her head clear even if her nose isn’t clean. Both worlds collide as Stine and Stone attempt to get their stuff together and finish the script/case.
This review catches COA late in its run after habits have been ingrained by the cast, and both cast and crew have relaxed into their performances. The leads show dedicated application of skill as they are 100% energetic and convincing. While appearing white as sheet, Hoopman gives a hard, Robert Ryan-esque performance. He and Tayler have excellent chemistry as polar opposites. They share only one duet but the strength of their chemistry leaves one wishing they had more.
Leigh Barrett and Jennifer Ellis perform so well and with such power that is seems as if they can do no wrong.
Some of the ensemble members were not so successful. For example, it was obvious that Elise Arsenault and Sarah Kornfeld of the Angel City 4 were carrying the weight and doing all of the heavy lifting in the quartet. While the four actors consistently sounded beautiful, Arsenault and Kornfeld were committed to the expression of their characters to such a high degree that their male counterparts were found lacking.
The vocals were flat in the second act. It wasn’t consistent, and it certainly wasn’t due to a lack of energy from the performers. Low pitch frequently coincided with a subtle itch to move freely during park and bark solo numbers. It was as if the actors were revolting against their still staging. After a number of weeks performing, this makes total sense. At the risk of being outrageously bold: please don’t fight your character’s intuition. It will be more satisfying to us and to you, the performer.
Gun shots, vapor cigarettes and lighting design intended to imitate camera flashes are used in this production. These things, like so much in City of Angels appear real but are not once you wrap your mind around them. COA is a wonderful production. Please don’t let minor details get in the way of enjoyment.