Review: ‘City of Angels’

Reprise's production of "City of Angels" at the Freud Playhouse is a knockout. Tuner won the 1990 Tony Award for musical and, under Joe Leonardo's smooth direction, this presentation highlights all the show's strengths. With less emphasis placed on physical design, the spotlight is on Gelbart's witty writing, Zippel's clever lyrics, Coleman's outstanding score and a sterling cast of musical stars.

Reprise’s production of “City of Angels” at the Freud Playhouse is a knockout. Tuner (music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by David Zippel, book by Larry Gelbart) won the 1990 Tony Award for musical and, under Joe Leonardo’s smooth direction, this presentation highlights all the show’s strengths. With less emphasis placed on the physical design of the show, the spotlight is on Gelbart’s witty writing, Zippel’s clever lyrics, Coleman’s outstanding score and a sterling cast of musical stars. The result is a polished revival that arguably is more effective than the original L.A. production at the Shubert Theater.

Story follows the travails of Hollywood writer Stine (Stephen Bogardus) and his fictional alter ego Stone (Burke Moses) as one of Stine’s crime novels is made into a film. As Stone is drawn into a murder mystery involving the nefarious women of the Kingsley family (Marguerite MacIntyre and Alli Mauzey), Stine is fending off the constant script alterations of producer-director Buddy Fidler (Stuart Pankin) and halfheartedly trying to save his marriage with wife Gabby (Tami Tappan Damiano). The fictional and real stories mirror each other until, finally, they begin to merge.

This story is set in the 1940s, and, as a result, it hasn’t dated appreciably. Gelbart’s script is still laugh-out-loud funny (“Put the cork back in your breakfast”) and full of spot-on noir pastiche (“Only the floor kept her legs from going on forever”). The Coleman-Zippel songs are still impressive and varied in tone, from ballads to bawdiness, and the fantastic singers assembled here do them justice.

Bogardus, in fine voice, brings charisma to a character who could be less sympathetic. Moses is completely convincing as tough gumshoe Stone, and highly amusing when he steps out of character to chastise Stine. MacIntyre is excellent as the slinky Alaura and the unfaithful Carla, bringing a teasing sexiness to “The Tennis Song.” Damiano is superb as the ill-used Gabby and the unlucky Bobbi, and she delivers lovely renditions of “With Every Breath I Take” and the mournfully comic “It Needs Work.”

Vicki Lewis is impressive as dual secretaries Oolie and Donna, one a broad film noir caricature and the other an intelligent if overlooked woman, and she brings both roles together memorably with a strong voice in “You Can Always Count on Me.” Mauzey makes the most of her alluring heiress in “Lost and Found,” and Pankin balances humor and menace nicely as Buddy.

Bradley Kaye’s minimal set design works well, particularly a pair of posters that hang over the stage — one the cover of a novel, the other a film poster of the story — which neatly represent the duality of the piece. Kay Cole’s choreography is light and inventive, and Gerald Sternbach’s music direction brings the show to rousing life.

City of Angels

UCLA Freud Playhouse; 562 seats; $75 top

Production

A Reprise! Broadway's Best presentation of a musical in two acts, with music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by David Zippel, book by Larry Gelbart. Directed by Joe Leonardo. Music direction, Gerald Sternbach. Choreography, Kay Cole.

Creative

Sets, Bradley Kaye; costumes, Alex Jaeger; lighting, Tom Ruzika; sound, Phillip G. Allen; production stage manager, Ronn Goswick. Opened, reviewed Jan. 25, 2006; runs through Feb. 5. Running time: 2 HOURS, 20 MIN.

Cast

Stone - Burke Moses Stine - Stephen Bogardus Oolie/Donna - Vicki Lewis Alaura Kingsley/Carla Haywood - Marguerite MacIntyre Bobbi/Gabby - Tami Tappan Damiano Buddy Fidler/Irwin S. Irving - Stuart Pankin Jimmy Powers - Kevin Earley Lt. Munoz/Pancho Vargas - Daniel Guzman Mallory Kingsley/Avril Raines - Alli Mauzey
Ensemble: Randy Brenner, Gary Cearlock, Eric Leviton, Wes Ramsey, Teresa Marie Sanchez, Brent Schindele, Joe Souza, Herschel Sparber, Anne Fraser Thomas, Freyda Thomas.
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