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.