By Connie Shakalis | H-T Reviewer Apr 14, 2018
Cy Coleman’s, that is. The once child prodigy from New York City teamed up with the clever and super-smart lyricist David Zippel and writer Larry Gelbart (“M*A*S*H” and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”) to create a musical for those who love words, music or film noir. Lines include (in rhythm) “It would be wise if I kept my eyes off her thighs” and “Nobody ever got mad being quoted to himself.” There is also a reference to pencil-envy.
“City of Angels” (1989) won six Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical — Larry Gelbart; Best Original Score — Cy Coleman and David Zippel; and Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical.
A double story, it tells of a novelist, Stine (Cole Winston), who is persuaded by Hollywood producer/director Buddy Fiddler (Dom Pagliaro) to allow his detective story to be turned into a screenplay. “Everybody writes books — but screenplays!?” As we watch the development of that tale, we also learn another: the fictional detective’s — as it comes to life.
Typical in film noir (a dark, convoluted style some believe grew out of German Expressionistic cinema — menacing and macabre), the plot is anything but linear. Betrayal, twists and near misses enchant. Also typical are greed and jealousy. “You’re so jealous of my track record,” Stine’s novel’s character Detective Stone (Joshua Scott Carter) accuses. Indeed, we learn that Stine does aspire to be much more like his fictional Stone than the nerdy, soft-spoken writer he is.
Soft-spoken, until he sings. Winston’s voice could blast the keys off his typewriter. Someone had alerted me in the lobby before the show Friday night: “You’re going to love Cole,” she said. I do. Another remarkable voice is that of the witless but charming Jimmy Powers (Jake McCutcheon).
But, then, this is a show for singers, and musical director Terry LaBolt and director Richard Roland have assembled a wondrous cast of them. Every musical number gleams, particularly those involving the quartet, Angel City Four, and a few of the duets.
Coleman is all about jazz, and his score is well suited to these talented Indiana University voices. I thought of the vocal quartet Manhattan Transfer (maybe even better, here). Although Courtney Foxworthy’s costumes are a real high point, I could almost have just closed my eyes, missing their sexy, colorful splendor, every time these ensemble numbers started. Coleman’s harmonies are so close they border — thrillingly — on cacophony.
And LaBolt’s skin-tingling brass section. At first I feared his wonderful band would overshadow some of the voices, but they toned it down quickly, and the balance became nearly perfect.
A clever choreography piece by Liza Gennaro is a police officer kicking the chair out from under Stone, on cue.
Everyone was effective and appealing. I’ll choose a few who stood out. Lisa Podulka is a born comic. Audie Deinlein is, well, precious. Dancer Victoria Wiley kept catching my eye, even when I was admiring someone else. As previously mentioned, the quartet, Angel City Four, is one of this production’s best assets.
Casey Lamont moved me as Stine’s loving, persuasive wife. Pagliaro kept me laughing as the slimy movie producer. Mary Beth Black’s “You Can Always Count on Me,” sung as both her characters, was a treat.
Film noir’s classic downbeat attitude, rife with cynicism, disrupted sequences and sex, gets an upbeat spin with Zippel’s, Coleman’s and Gelbart’s story. The cynicism, disruption and sex stay, but we get two and a half hours (with intermission) of raucous, happy adventure.
Another of film noir’s ingredients is flashback, and Roland uses a witty reverse-the-dialogue trick here. He even has the actors involved say their lines backward, as in truly backward, letter by letter.
If the rest of the numbers don’t send you home happy, the finale, “I’m Nothing Without You,” will.
As Stone says of artists when they get together, “The traveling compliment show,” with each raving (and inwardly eye-rolling) about the others. But this production, with its superb lyrics, score and book and rave-worthy direction and performances, does deserve plenty of compliments.
If you go
WHO: Indiana University Department of Theater, Drama, and Contemporary Dance
WHAT: “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.
Reprinted with permission from The Herald Times. For more local arts news and reviews, visit heraldtimesonline.com.