CITY OF ANGELS
PIT COLLECTIVE, Performance Works, July 8th-17th
My Two Pence
My Two Cents
By Robert Blackburn
City of Angels is a musical comedy that intertwines two plots; one side we have the real world of 1940s 'Hollywood' where a writer is trying to get his book made into a film. The other is that very film as it goes through re-writes and edits- the 'movie' section. The 'movie' is written as a highly stylized crime-caper film noir and in its ambition to ape these type of movies perfectly it is extremely mannered. Some of this is sadly maintained still in the 'Hollywood' story. Exceptions include a wonderful portrayal of Buddy Fiddler, the movie's producer, by Paul Herbert and Lt. Munoz, within the 'movie', by Tim Perez. Perez didn't even have the strongest voice, which goes to show you don't need the prerequisite of being the most accomplished singer to perform the most entertaining song or have one of the more engaging characters.
Stine (the writer) played by Donal Thoms-Cappello attempted to be a bit more natural in his delivery and elicit sympathy from the audience but seemed to struggle when he wasn't doing a number. Bursting into song he dropped with ease (to his detriment) into standard musical theatre behavioural tropes, which he seemed more at home with. Particularly grating was the raising of his arms in a superfluous manner at the end of the anger-ridden 'Funny'. The incongruity of his physicality when contrasted with the rage of the song was a poor choice.
Generally and unfortunately, the highly contrived style was a trap the show fell into which it had ultimately set itself: complete insincerity. In its ambition to entrench so fully into the genre it lost any naturalness that would cause me to feel for any of the character's journeys. This was not entirely the production's fault, however, as the musical is mostly the portrayal of Stine's 'movie'. Why should I care about fictional characters within a fictional world? The story they were telling was that of Stine's but the stage was cluttered with what seemed like 300 characters to portray this and the focus was often more on the 'movie'. The effort in the end seems moot as his story wasn't terribly interesting or sympathetic in the first place.
In the end it was a good production of a poor play by PIT Collective, this being their first outing together. There were some minor issues with lighting missteps and when the set was changed for the umpteenth time I did roll my eyes but everyone sang well and the acting was fairly decent across the board. Act Two, though, plodded onto a low-energy finale that was more self indulgent and congratulatory than climactic. The exception, throughout, was the highly entertaining Paul Herbert who stole every scene and most of the laughs.
By Lillian Jasper
The PIT Collective has brought you a sleek, slick and sexy offering in City Of Angels. It’s an incredibly ambitious piece of theatre and this execution is nothing short of triumphant. The show, as written, requires precision and specificity from its performers and directors to guide the audience. It’s more technically complex than any show of this calibre, which would be daunting in less capable hands, as it mixes both live action and filmed scenes. Here it has been so expertly crafted that it seems effortless. Apart from the two leading men, each actor plays at least two characters, one in fiction and one in reality. Keeping track of which world we’re in any given scene might be trickier if it weren’t for the skill of the actors, directors and excellent lighting.
We are immediately sucked into the dark and hyper-stylized world of 1940’s Los Angeles with the tight and punchy harmonies of the Angel City 4 (Jesse Alvarez, Janet Gigliotti, Thomas King, Lindsay Warnock) and the smooth choreography of Ken Overbey. There we meet private investigator Stone, played flawlessly by Michael Lomenda. He looks and sounds as though he’s been plucked out of another era, with a velvety voice we often hear in voiceover (in keeping with the style of film noir detectives). The show’s other male lead, Stine, the author struggling to wrote the screenplay that features Stone and his exploits, is played by Donal Thoms-Cappello. The character of Stine is understandably less charismatic than his creation Stone, but that doesn’t Thoms-Capello from nailing the nuance and increasing bitterness of his character, never clearer than in the show’s gut-wrenching penultimate number “Funny”. Paul Herbert is hilarious and energetic as the sleazy, controlling movie director Buddy Fidler.
The leading women are all exceptional as well. Caitlin Clugston brings her trademark world-weariness to Gabby and Bobbi, beloved by both Stone and Stine. Crystal Balint is immediately captivating as the femme fatale Alaura Kingsley. Miranda MacDougall knocks it out of the park with some brilliant sheet-work and solid pipes in the sultry and playful “Lost and Found”. As Oolie and Donna, Jennifer Copping is all things - sweet, wry, vulnerable, street-smart, and self-assured. She also directed the show, along with Sylvia Zaradic. I simply cannot offer enough praise for the vision and talent of these women. No detail is overlooked, every move, every glance is there to immerse us into this world, and the world-within-the-world. Even the scene changes are sexy (though there are a few too many).
If it sounds complex, it is, and the script by Larry Gelbart is occasionally overwrought, brilliant as it is. This is a show you don’t watch passively - you must remain engaged and alert. The wordplay is such that every line has some sort of pun or play on words that there’s no way to catch every joke. No trope is left unturned. Just pay attention and get all the laughs you can.
The production is not without some minor faults. The show feels a bit long, especially nearing the end of a 90-minute first act. The staging left for some less-than-desirable sight-lines but that’s nothing new in a traverse set up, and you could tell they were doing their best to work the room. Technically, there were a few late cues when microphones were left off for too long, but it was hardly noticeable and quickly resolved.
The phenomenally lush band and extensive props, sets and costumes all do their part to immerse us in the era. Cy Coleman’s score is rich, dreamy and oozes authenticity (the man did write his share of jazz standards). David Zippel’s lyrics pick up seamlessly where Gelbart’s script leaves off. Every member of this ensemble, both onstage and off, is simply top-notch. It must be so satisfying to know that their hard work as paid off, and together they have created such a solid and polished product.
I can’t say enough good things. Musical theatre really doesn’t get better than this. It’s a thrilling show that has never been done in Vancouver. Go see it.