By Joel Pierson H-T Theater columnist | Apr 8, 2018
A play within a play — it’s not just for works of Shakespeare. Opening this week on IU’s stage, the musical “City of Angels” makes good use of the theatrical technique. To be perfectly accurate, it’s more of a movie within a play, but the effect is much the same. Let me set the scene(s) for you.
The mean streets of Los Angeles, late 1940s. We meet a hard-boiled private eye named Stone with a chip on one shoulder and a bullet in the other one. He’s on a case that’s gone south, trying to find a missing heiress, and he’s got a bad feeling about it. But then—psych!—we meet Stine, a novelist who’s written a story called “City of Angels” that he’s adapting into a screenplay, as we watch. Stone’s plight is coming to life, courtesy of Stine’s typewriter.
Theater is a living thing, and Stine crafting Stone’s story in the moment reminds the audience of this at every turn. So, what the audience gets is two stories side by side, each fully fleshed out. As Stone tries to solve the case and find the dame— (Sorry, got caught up in the 1940s lingo. I really do have feminist leanings.) —Stine is trying to stay focused on his screenplay, despite his wife’s apprehension about stepping into this new medium.
The story of “City of Angels” comes from the mind of Larry Gelbart, writer of such screenplays as “Tootsie” and “Oh, God!” and such television classics as “M*A*S*H” and “The Danny Kaye Show.” Gelbart’s wit and creativity were legendary, and this shines through in the dual narrative here. Stine and Stone’s worlds, though separate, become intertwined as circumstances for each of them become similar and familiar. As the plot thickens, the writer and his character seem to influence each other’s thoughts and actions, building to a dramatic conclusion.
The cast of 32 is made up of musical theater BFA undergraduate students. Cole Winston plays Stine, while Joshua Scott Carter plays Stone. Almost all of the supporting cast doubles up, with a role in the screenplay and a role in Stine’s “real life.” Some fancy stagecraft helps the audience keep on top of whose story we’re in at the moment.
The score is all about the jazz, a fitting choice for the time and place. Songs like “What You Don’t Know About Women,” “You Gotta Look Out for Yourself,” “Ev’rybody’s Gotta Be Somewhere,” “All You Have to Do Is Wait,” “L.A. Blues” and “I’m Nothing Without You” move the plot along as they captivate the audience.
The show won six 1990 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and even if it doesn’t have the name recognition of a “Les Miserables” or a “Phantom of the Opera,” what it does have is the guts and the glory. (Sorry, there’s that 1940s lingo again. Maybe I should see somebody about that.) And it definitely has the pedigree to create an entertaining — dare I say enchanting? — evening of musical theater.
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If you go
WHO: Indiana University Department of Theater, Drama, and Contemporary DanceWHAT: “City of Angels” by Cy Coleman, David Zippel and Larry Gelbart
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Apr. 13-14, 17-21; 2 p.m. Apr. 21
WHERE: Ruth N. Halls Theater, 275 N. Jordan Ave.
TICKETS: $10-$20. Call 812.855.1103 or visit theatre.indiana.edu.