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City of Angels

The Goodspeed Opera House presents a sumptuous revival of the exceedingly well-conceived Broadway musical by Larry Gelbart, Cy Coleman, and David Zippel. logo
Burke Moses (top) and D.B. Bonds
in City of Angels
(© Diane Sobolewski)
Who can explain why City of Angels, a scrumptious film-noir spoof with a book by Larry Gelbart, music by Cy Coleman, and lyrics by David Zippel, hasn't made it back to Broadway since its highly successful 1989 debut? But as Darko Tresjnak's sumptuous production at the Goodspeed Opera House once again proves, musicals this well conceived don't come along every day, or even every decade.

Of course, it takes a top-notch cast and design team to master the complexities of the show's parallel plots, which concern a screenwriter named Stine (here, the deceptively meek-looking D.B. Bonds) trying to retain artistic control over the film adaptation of his novel about a hard-boiled detective named Stone (Burke Moses).

Not only does the cinematically headlong action (complete with comic slo-mos, rewinds, and fast-forwards) require no fewer than 40 scene changes, but every actor other than the two leads has a foot in each world.

Take for instance, Stine's meddling producer, Buddy Fidler (Jay Russell, who has the macher palaver down). He has a cameo in the film as a Hollywood big shot quickly dispatched in the course of a vertical casting-couch session. His partner in flagrante is Stone's main squeeze, nightclub chanteuse Bobbi, (played with luscious low notes by Laurie Wells). In the real, colorized world, Wells portrays Stine's high-minded wife, who hates to see him prostitute himself for Tinseltown.

Stine has his work cut out for him thanks to Buddy, who declares a moratorium on morgue scenes -- even though Stine's scenario starts off with Stone on a stretcher. Buddy also eschews any hint of a politicosocial message, so Stone's nemesis, the Latino cop Munoz (snappy Danny Bolero), has his case of class envy excised, and a cheesy romantic rivalry written in.

Still, these are mere hiccups in a takeover that ultimately renders Stine apoplectic. He thinks he has an ally -- not to mention handily compliant paramour -- in Buddy's right-hand girl, Donna (Nancy Anderson). But in Hollywood, the knives are always out, even in the boudoir.

My one quibble with this splendidly produced show is the depiction of Donna (aka "Oolie" in the film fantasy). She's meant to be a good-time gal, not an Eve Arden type -- though she's certainly smart enough to trade quips with the big boys. Tracy Christensen -- whose costumes are otherwise spot-on -- gives both Donna and Oolie too hard an edge, inhibiting Anderson's innate bounciness and sex appeal. And while Oolie's anthem, "You Can Always Count on Me" can have a bitter cast, it's also a celebration of the adventurous options offered by the inclination to say yes.

That misstep aside, Tresnjak pulls off a miracle, with his use of the venerable Goodspeed Opera House's postage stamp of a stage. He's greatly abetted in the effort by an ingenious set design by David P. Gordon bursting with as many pop-out elements as a toddler's busy box, while Shawn Boyle's L.A.-evocative projections enhance the sleight-of-hand, helping to keep the audience cued in as to locale.

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