Lyric’s ‘City of Angels’ Sends Up Noir, 30’s Hollywood In Fun Romp (4 Stars)
*’City of Angels’ – Music by Cy Coleman; Lyrics by David Zippel; Book by Larry Gelbart. Directed by Spiro Veloudos; Music Direction by Catherine Stornetta; Scenic Design by Matt Whiton; Choreography and Musical Staging by Rachel Bertone; Costume Design by Elisabetta Polito. Presented by The Lyric Stage Company of Boston at 140 Clarendon St, Boston through May 2nd.*
*City of Angels*, the musical ode to Film Noir now being performed at the Lyric, covers all of the bases for fans of the genre – a down on his luck private eye, his faithful Girl Friday, a crooked cop who’s got it in for the hero, and lots of sultry dames. And as if the detective story weren’t enough, the play adds a second layer, a kind of alternate universe that has the gumshoe story’s characters double as real life folks trying to make a movie of the story that we’re watching unfold. And while the play itself gets off to a bit of a slow start establishing the multiple characters from both camps, the strong performances of the leads carry it through to a pretty satisfying ending.
Following an opening number by the musical’s Manhattan Transfer-esque quartet (the Angel City 4) set against the backdrop of a movie screen displaying the title *City of Angels*, the story opens the way spoofs of the genre typically do: with a femme fatale in trouble. In this case, it’s Alaura Kingsley – beautiful, blonde, and stacked like an all-you-can-eat special at the International House of Pancakes – and she needs the help of our hard-boiled private dick, Stone. Anyone who’s familiar with Dashiell Hammett/Raymond Chandler stories know what happens next, at least in a general way. There are lots of red herrings, Stone gets roughed up a few times and also has some sort of romance going with with every female character in the story. The plot for the movie may not be any “Maltese Falcon” or “Big Sleep”, but it certainly works as well as any knockoff that Hollywood churned out during that period. The comedy about the making of the movie does not fare as well (it’s certainly no *Producers*) but it has some pretty funny moments.
The dialogue is spot-on for the genre (not surprising since Larry Gelbart of TV’s *MASH* fame wrote the script) and there are many laugh out loud one-liners, particularly with the plethora of double-entendres between Stone and the dames. The strength of this show is the cast, particularly the leads. Ed Hoopman is well cast as the manly but imperfect Stone, and Leigh Barrett is terrific in the dual role of Oolie, Stone’s assistant (who, of course, yearns for him) and Donna, the film producer’s secretary (who sleeps with Stone’s creator, novelist-turned-screenwriter Stine).
But Jennifer Ellis, as Stine’s cheated-on wife and Stone’s real love, chanteuse Bobbi, is the highlight of the show, lighting up every scene she’s in. She and Barrett team up to do a great job in the number “What You Don’t Know About Women” (sung to Stone and Stine); She brings a sharp comic tone to the clever “It Needs Work”, and delivers a standout performance on “With Every Breath I Take” as Bobbi. Anyone who saw her performance in Speakeasy Stage Company’s *Far From Heaven* understands that she is a luminous talent, and that talent shines through in this performance as well.
The songs in the show are a little hit or miss, but when they’re good, they’re very good, such as the aforementioned Ellis songs (plus anything Barrett does) as well as the Angel City 4 numbers, particularly when fronted by Jimmy Powers (Davron Monroe). The orchestra is also first rate, so lovers of 30’s style music are in for a treat. Overall it’s a really fun show. For more info, go to: [http://www.lyricstage.com/productions/production.cfm?ID=89](http://www.lyricstage.com/productions/production.cfm?ID=89)