City of Angels

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Seen January 3 2015

Donmar Warehouse, London

Book by Larry Gelbart

Music by Cy Coleman

Lyrics by David Zippel

Directed by Josie Rourke

Cast: Sandra Marvin, Jennifer Saayeng, Kadiff Kirwan, Jo Servi, Rebecca Trehearn, Tam Mutu, Katherine Kelly, Hadley Fraser, Peter Polycarpou, Rosalie Craig, Tim Walton, Nick Cavaliere, Adam Fogerty, Marc Elliott, Cameron Cuffe, Mark Penfold, Samantha Barks

On the first Saturday of 2014, we started our theatre year with Josie Rourke’s Coriolanus at the Donmar Warehouse. The plan was to spend the first week of 2015 in London again anyway, so we decided to start a new tradition. Even if City of Angels turned out to be the second play we saw this year instead of the first, we still happily spent Saturday evening at the Donmar.

I’m not the biggest fan or connoisseur of musicals, but I’m always willing to try something new and in this case I was once again glad I did. I also detected a pattern of liking the ones where someone dies and being the musical version of a film noir, City of Angels ticked that box too.

Josie Rourke’s first musical production is stylish, funny, well acted and even better sung. From the costumes – I had some serious wardrobe envy, especially concerning the green dress, but I digress – to the stage setting that mainly consisted of piles of scripts and easily changeable features that allowed to switch not only to different locations in record time, but also between the world of philandering writer Stine – who has to deal with marital troubles, a movie producer and said producer’s cunning secretary – to the world of his creation Stone, a private eye hired to find an heiress under questionable circumstances with the LAPD on his heels.

The entire musical was a masterclass in lighting design. Stone’s film noir world was lit in black and white, Stine’s Technicolor. When the two men started fighting for dominance on stage during ‘You’re Nothing Without Me’, the colour scheme was a third character on stage that contributed a lot to the scene.

Hadley Fraser seemed a lot more at home as singing writer Stine than as Aufidius last year and Tam Mutu’s Stone brought a Cary Grant like presence as well as a serious set of pipes. In fact, the entire ensemble was fantastic, most  of them playing several roles in the parallel worlds and some of it even in reverse when Stine changed the script. I really would have loved to see rehearsal footage of the rewound scenes.

As for the musical numbers, they are catchy to the point that reading the song titles now when I checked if I had them right, the chorus of each title popped into my head immediately. I have no idea why this gem of a musical isn’t performed more often. Oolie/Donna’s ‘You Can Always Count On Me’, performed tongue-in-cheek by Rebecca Trehearn is another one that stayed in my ears for a few days.

If there was a cast recording and/or DVD of this production, I would buy it in a heartbeat. There might even have been singing and humming on the way back to the hotel.

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