note: entire contents copyright 2014 by Sheila Barth
Warning - on a hot summer night, don’t see a theater production when the venue’s air conditioning is malfunctioning.
That was the unfortunate circumstance last Saturday night, at F.U.D.G.E. Theatre Company’s production of Tony Award-winning play, “City of Angels,” in Arsenal Center for the Arts’ Black Box Theatre. Director Joey DeMita’s talented cast of 16 (he’s also sound designer and designer of the show’s fantastic vintage 1940‘s costumes) and award-winning Music Director Steve Bergman on keyboard, with his five musicians, delivered a stellar effort to the show, But as the actors sang and danced up a sweat, theatergoers shifted uncomfortably in their seats during the 2-3/4-act musical spoof, signaling perhaps other problems. Simply said, the play is too long.
A jazzy choral group, Angel City 4, warms up the audience with a snazzy Manhattan Transfer-style introduction, and main characters swiftly shift from one dual role to another. During several scenes, the actors frequently schlep and rotate Emily Taborda-Monroe’s large, two-sided structural prop (on wheels), that separates fiction from reality. And both collide in this clever exploration of film noir, highlighting novelist vs. sleazy movie mogul. The two-sided, structure serves as a fictitious private investigator’s office, a movie producer’s office, a playwright’s office, the private investigator’s bedroom, a wealthy magnate’s room, in which he’s immobile in an iron lung, among other sites.
At times, venetian blinds are useful scrims, separating background singers and action.
Set designer Jim Petty utilizes most of the small stage space, especially with that multi-use, dominant prop, but after awhile, its between-scene turns become tiresome.
Perhaps DeMita is overly ambitious here, attempting to produce the multi-award winning, 1989 Broadway hit, (which he rightfully labels as “a behemoth of a show”), in a cramped venue. “City of Angels” had wowed audiences in Los Angeles in 1991 and in London’s West End in 1993.
DeMita isn’t one to back down from bringing the best of theater to small venues, and he has successfully managed to do so, garnering his own collection of nominations and awards.
Also, DeMita carefully handpicks his casts. Here, several performers portray at least two roles, making rapid, multiple, costume changes. These actors are up to the task, never missing a cue, despite evolving into different characters.
As philandering novelist Stine (Kyle W. Carlson) re-writes his latest novel into a film noir screenplay in the naughty ‘40s, he crosses ideology and compromises his artistic integrity with a sleazy, finagling movie mogul-producer-director (Dan Goldstone is outstanding as Buddy Fidler and Irwin S. Irving). Jared Troilo dominates the stage as Stone, Stine’s fictional private investigator character, who takes on a life of his own; AnneMarie Alvarez as overlooked, underappreciated assistants, Donna and Oolie, belts out her frustrations; and Ben Gold is a scene-stealer in his dual roles as Pancho Vargas and Police Lt. Munoz. Pretty Katie Preisig adds glamor and sex appeal as femme fatales Carla Hayward and Alaura Kingsley, and award-winning Lori L’Italien is noteworthy as Stine’s wife, Gabby, and Stone’s ambitious, torch-singing, misled love interest, Bobbi.
The rest of the cast, including Angel City 4 chorus members and lead tenor Jimmy Powers (Rich Hoehn), maintain the play’s ambitious momentum, melodically and dramatically.
“City of Angels” is a fun adventure into Hollywood’s seamy past. If DeMita can straighten out these few wrinkles, he’ll add another notch on his hits list.
Two-act, 2-3/4 hour musical spoof, book by Larry Gelbart, music by Cy Coleman,lyrics by David Zippel, presented by Fudge Theatre Company, July 17-19, at 8 p.m., at the Arsenal Center for the Arts, 321 Arsenal St., Watertown. Tickets, $26; seniors, students, $21. For reservations, visit www.fudgetheatre.com; more information, call 617-945-0773.