City of Angels is a good musical that’s difficult to get right. The last local production, at Flower Mound Performing Arts Theatre some years ago, had a killer cast (Gary Floyd, Patty Breckenridge) and a stage the size usually reserved for postage stamps. It was fun but crowded.
Theatre 3, which is mounting the latest version, has more space but not much more success wrangling it. There are tons of scenes, meaning scene changes need to occur at the end of songs or while the action is taking place; it’s distracting — made more so because the script is a clever bit of story-within-a-story that requires some attention. In 1940s L.A., hardboiled private eye Stone (Gregory Lush) is hired to investigate the disappearance of an heiress (Nikki McDonald), only, a la Chinatown, gets more than he bargained for.
Only Stone isn’t real, he’s the movie creation of Stine (Alexander Ross), a novelist hired by a Hollywood studio to adapt his book into a screenplay. Stine thinks he’s Faulkner, but he’s not even Hammett. He argues with the studio head (who’s also the director and producer of the film — yeah, like that happens) over every line of dialogue, taking a sanctimonious attitude about his art while cheating on his wife with the boss’s secretary (Lee Jamison).
Larry Gelbart’s book is a thinly veiled defense of the writer’s craft, something more respected on stages than movie screens, but Stine is so prickly about the beauty of his novel he doesn’t seem to want to learn how to make a movie. Ultimately, it’s difficult to take his side.
The score, by Cy Coleman and David Zippel, has the Big Band sound of an old Bette Midler album, though Zippel’s lyrics are gimmicky, sometimes painfully so (your fertile lies can fertilize…? I’ve been through DeMille…? Ugh!). Still, it’s worth it to listen to some terrific singers belt out tunes.
The show rests largely on its close-harmony duets, especially “What You Don’t Know About Women: (sung by Jamison and Kassiani Menas) and “You’re Nothing With Me” (sung by Lush and Ross). Their vocal performances in City of Angels reach the heavens.
Runs at Theatre 3 through July 13.