What was always fun about "City" was how Gelbart accurately captured the 1940 s era, particularly Hollywood. The protagonist, Stine (Todd Nielsen), is every writer from F. Scott Fitzgerald to Dorothy Parker who came to Hollywood to work for the movies, made money but found themselves answering to a higher authority -- the studio boss.

What was always fun about “City” was how Gelbart accurately captured the 1940 s era, particularly Hollywood. The protagonist, Stine (Todd Nielsen), is every writer from F. Scott Fitzgerald to Dorothy Parker who came to Hollywood to work for the movies, made money but found themselves answering to a higher authority — the studio boss.

Nielsen, also one of the show’s directors, is the perfect straight man for Buddy (Blaise Messinger), the boss, a harried producer trying to put together a movie that will win audiences and studio approval.

Tuner’s prime conceit is switching between the worlds of Stine, the writer, and Stone (Robert Stoeckle), the private-eye protagonist whose story he’s scripting. Stine’s story is told in Technicolor, while Stone’s scenes take on the ’40s movie hues of black, white and gray in lighting, costumes and sets. Most of the actors play characters in both worlds.

Gelbart also pays homage to the era’s screen prototypes: The femme fatale (Colleen Fitzpatrick), the good girl-gone-bad (Jan Pessano) and the wisecracking secretary (Barbara Passolt) all have a story to tell, usually in song.

While Nielsen’s weak point is his vocal prowess, he does display showmanship, belting out a hearty version of “You’re Nothing Without Me” with his counterpart Stone.

Stoeckle plays the prototypical gumshoe, hard-boiled and soft-hearted, with a strong singing voice to boot. Messinger also turns in a delightfully comic performance.

As the femme fatale who lures the private eye into a web of greed and murder, Fitzpatrick plays the glamorous wife of a much older, richer man with evil calm.

And as both Stone’s dedicated secretary Oolie and Messinger’s assistant Donna , Passolt displays a sterling set of pipes.

Shon LeBlanc and A. Jeffrey Schoenberg’s beautiful costumes evoke postwar fashions, and set designers Doug Staples and Richard D. Bluhm make the best use of space on a relatively small stage.

Directors Nick DeGruccio and Nielsen have coached their cast to articulate the clever lyrics, adding much to Gelbart’s book. Somehow, this team manages to make a musical that sometimes gets bogged down in its own cleverness look very easy.

City of Angels

Production

City of Angels (Colony Studio Theater; 99 seats; $ 25 top) Colony Studio Theater presents a musical in two acts with book by Larry Gelbart, music by Cy Coleman and lyrics by David Zippel. Direction and musical staging by Nick DeGruccio, Todd Nielsen.

Crew

Set design, Richard D. Bluhm, Doug Staples; lighting, Ted Ferreira; music, Laurence O'Keefe; costumes, Shon LeBlanc, A. Jeffrey Schoenberg, sound; John Fisher. Opened June 1, 1996; reviewed July 13; runs through Sept. 1. Running time: 2 hours, 45 min.

With

Stone ... Robert Stoeckle Stine ... Todd Nielsen Bobbi/Gabby ... Jan Pessano Oolie/Donna ... Barbara Passolt Buddy/Irwin ... Blaise Messinger Alaura/Carla ... Colleen Fitzpatrick Luther/Werner ... Stuart Lancaster Peter/Gerald ... Ed Lavelle Mallory/Avril ... Robyn Raab Munoz/Pancho ... Lego Louis Pasco/Gene ... Brian Fenwick Mandril/Del DaCosta ... Lon Huber Jimmy Powers ... James Campbell Big Six ... R.A. Mihailoff Sonny ... Dean Arevalo Margie/Anna ... Judith Goldstein The Angel City Four ... Gary Howe-Scott Theresa Layne, Ryan Smith, Chris Thomas This small-house version of Larry Gelbart's award-winning 1940s musical noir still plays big. The Raymond Chandler-meets-Hollywood comedy confection features somewhat witty songs that, if delivered with enough verve, bring the house down. This production manages that and more.

Filed Under:

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more