It’s a story of the reel world and the real world. Successful author, Stine, is trying to translate his hit novel into a screenplay while traversing the politics of Hollywood and attempting to save a marriage failing due to his philandering. His creation and alter-ego, hard-boiled detective Stone, is trying to solve the mystery of a missing heiress while being re-edited into a shadow of his original self. This is City of Angels by Larry Gelbart with music by Cy Coleman and lyrics by David Zippel currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.
Gelbart’s script is actually a very bold experiment as it tries to tell two stories simultaneously. I think Gelbart somewhat fails in this aspect as his fictional tale of Stone gets the bulk of the focus which makes the real world story of Stine feel like filler. However, the mystery is quite interesting and is peppered with just the right amount of comedy when the characters rewind and redo scenes as Stine edits them.
Cy Coleman’s score is a good fit for the film noir story with a nice mix of standards, jazz, and blues. With that being said, the musical is somewhat weakened by the fact that there is no real standout song.
Director Jeff Horger did a fairly good job with the direction of the piece. I found the staging to be on target with smooth scene changes. But I also thought his direction suffered a bit from poor pacing in Act I and a rather mixed bag of performances from his cast.
I give a big thumbs up to the ensemble players for always remaining in the thick of the action. They always stayed involved with appropriate bits of business that added a nice bit of atmosphere to the show. Special notice goes out to Patrick Kilcoyne who was quite amusing as the spiritual healer, Dr. Mandril and Aubrey Fleming who was a delightful surprise in the dual roles of the missing heiress, Mallory Kingsley, and as Avril Raines, an actress willing to do whatever it took to boost her role.
Isaac Reilly needed a little bit of time to get going, but once he did, his interpretation of Stone was right on the money. Once he fixed his projection problem, Reilly’s Stone was the perfect hard-boiled detective with his cynicism, wit, and doggedness. Reilly’s singing had a rather impressive range as he has a natural baritone speaking voice, but could go tenor with the notes when required. Reilly especially impressed with “The Tennis Song” and his argument with his alter-ego, Stine, in “You’re Nothing Without Me”.
John E. Jones needs to take the energy he puts into his singing and transfer it to his acting. I thought his portrayal of Stine was bland and colorless, but he finally showed some life at the very end of the play. There’s a lot to Stine. He’s a talented writer, but not built for Hollywood as he deals with the constant butchering of his screenplay by a hack producer/director. He’s a bit of a repressed milquetoast who caves in easily, can’t seem to help himself from sleeping around, and created Stone as the man he wished he could be. There’s definitely a lot of material for character work. Jones’ singing made up for his acting as he’s got a good, strong tenor voice which was highlighted by “You’re Nothing Without Me”.
Steve Krambeck stole this show from the rest of the cast with a stunning performance as Buddy Fiddler and his fictional counterpart, Irwin S. Irving. Krambeck’s energy was absolutely incredible and he was overflowing with a disgusting, slimy charm. As Fiddler, Krambeck constantly alters Stine’s script reducing it from art to garbage. He callously cheats on his wife, gleefully steals writing credit, and is pretty obsessed with exerting total control over his films. Krambeck could also give most of this cast lessons in volume and projection as his vocal control was of excellent quality.
Samantha Quintana was superb in the dual roles of Donna & Oolie. Ms Quintana brought all of the necessary ingredients to Oolie, the secretary to detective Stone. She was brassy, a wisecracker, intelligent, capable, and loyal. Ms Quintana also has a wonderful alto voice that shone in “What You Don’t Know About Women” and “You Can Always Count on Me”.
Angela Jenson-Frey did remarkable work in the challenging dual roles of Gabbi Stine and Bobbi Edwards. Unlike the other characters whose fictional counterparts were fairly similar to their real selves, Ms Jenson-Frey’s two characters were the complete opposite of each other. As Gabbi, Stine’s wife, Ms Jenson-Frey displayed great love and loyalty to Stine in spite of his infidelities. As Bobbi Edwards, a lounge singer, Ms Jenson-Frey embodied Stine’s guilt at his cheating as she is the one who repeatedly cheats on Stone and readily takes advantage of his love when he covers up a criminal act of hers. Ms Jenson-Frey has a beautiful alto capable of all styles of singing from a great blues performance in “With Every Breath I Take” and an amusing ripping apart of Stine’s so-called apology in “It Needs Work”.
Jodi Vaccaro does a fine job in the dual roles of Alaura Kingsley/Carla Haywood. As Kingsley, Ms Vaccaro was the mysterious client who hires Stone to find her stepdaughter and one never understands her true motives until the denouement. But Ms Vaccaro has one of the great moments of the night as Carla, the actress wife of Buddy Fiddler. After rattling off the denouement speech smooth as silk as Aluara, she gets to do it again as Carla playing Alaura and her overwrought, stilted line delivery had me grinning from ear to ear.
The evening’s production was plagued with a lot of issues. With few exceptions, the cast was way too quiet, relying on the microphones to do their projecting instead of allowing it to augment their projection. This was especially noticeable in some of the songs where the orchestra was louder than the singers. The pace was terribly slow and cues were incredibly pausey, though that noticeably improved in Act II. Articulation needed a lot of work as some of the performers were nearly unintelligible. The choreography seemed off. The fights need to be smoother and quicker as they looked rehearsed. There was also some weak acting in some of the minor roles.
Jim Boggess and his orchestra brought their A game once again. Jim Othuse’s lighting was of tremendous quality as it weaved from the bright colors of the real world to the monochromatic colors of the reel world. Georgiann Regan’s costumes were perfect period pieces.
I’ll be very interested in seeing how audiences take to this show as it isn’t your typical musical. Not only are there no standout songs, but the songs only pop up once in a while making me wonder if this story wouldn’t have worked better as a straight play. As it was, my thumb is squarely in the middle, but a clean-up of the problems I noted would push it up a bit.
City of Angels plays at the Omaha Community Playhouse until April 3. Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets are $30 for adults and $20 for students on Wednesday and $40 for adults and $25 for students Thurs-Sun. Contact the Box Office at 402-553-0800 or visit their website at www.omahaplayhouse.com. This show has some rough language and adult situations and is not recommended for children. The Omaha Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass Street in Omaha, NE.