Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
City of Angels has one of the cleverest books ever by Larry Gelbart, sparkling music by Cy Coleman, and ingenious lyrics by David Zippel. The dazzling score has a jazzy feel of 1940s film noir with great songs such as "You Can Always Count On Me," "With Every Breath I Take," "You're Nothing Without Me" and "I'm Nothing Without You." The book ripples with wisecracks and wit. This is a glittery and svelte production directed by Bill English.
The plot is set in the late 1940s and writer Stine (Jeffrey Brian Adams) is seeking to turn one of his own private-eye fictions into a movie. At the same time, the audience sees on the upper level of the stage scenes from the progressing script in which private eye Stone (Brandon Dahlquist) goes down Los Angeles's mean streets in search of a runaway blonde. It's a Phillip Marlowe-Sam Spade-Raymond Chandler style screenplay filled with "Chandlersims." There is the interfering Hollywood studio head Buddy (Ryan Drummond), not unlike Jack Warner, who keeps changing lines from Stine's script, much to the consternation of the screenwriter. The upper level showing of the developing script is mostly in black and white with huge projections of the Hollywood in late '40s.
Bill English has assembled an awesome cast mostly from the Bay Area. Brandon Dahlquist from Chicago gives a superb performance as the shamus Stone. He speaks in sardonic tough-guy talk that you would hear in those private eye films with Humphrey Bogart. He has powerful vocal cords when singing "Double Talk," With Every Breath I Take," and "I'm Nothing Without You." Jeffrey Brian Adams shines as Stine. He plays the role as a somewhat nerdy screenwriter, but that collapses whenever he sings with a rich, powerful voice such songs as "Double Talk," "You're Nothing with Me," and "I'm Nothing Without You." Ryan Drummond is terrific as the egotistical producer and film studio head. He seduces, intimidates, scrambles, charmsand is entertainingly complacent.
Monique Hafen plays two roles: Donna, secretary to Buddy; and Oolie in the fantasy movie. She gives a knockout performance as Donna. As both Donna and Oolie she has pitch perfect resonance singing "You Can Always Count on Me." Samantha Rose rocks as Avril and Mallory. She sensually sings a sizzling seduction number "Lost and Found" in act one and then morphs into the promoting Hollywood starlet in act two. Both actresses inhabit two worlds with flawless style and ease.
William Giammona easily transforms into many roles, including the hilarious doctor and guru in a frightful curly wig with a high-pitched voice. Rudy Guerrero as Munoz in the fantasy movie gives an impressive performance and sings with his vibrant voice "All Ya Have to Do is Wait." As Pancho, a kiss ass assistant to Buddy, he is a hoot. Caitlan Taylor smartly tempers both Bobbi and Gabby and has thematic resonance in her number "With Every Breath I Take." Nanci Zoppi gives a sensual performance as Alaura Kinglsey and has great pipes singing "Double Talk." John Paul Gonzales gives a splendid portrayal of Jimmy Powers and has thematic timbre singing "Stay With Me." There is a quartet like the Modernaires who act as a roaming chorus as they sing be-bop and romantic radio crooning songs led by Ryan Mardesich. Ken Brill strikingly plays several roles, including a brilliant fight scene with Stone. Nichole Frydman marvelously plays several roles also.
Dave Dobrusky on piano skillfully leads a nine-piece orchestra behind the set. Set design also by Bill English is aided by the projections by Theodore J.H. Hulsker on the upper set. Dance choreography by Morgan Dayley is also first rate.
City of Angels is a clever homage to film noir with a terrific score by Cy Coleman and David Zippel and an exceptional book by Larry Gelbart. I think this production is as good as the Broadway, Los Angeles, and London productions. I just might see it again.
City of Angels runs through September 17th, 2016, at San Francisco Playhouse, 450 Post Street, San Francisco the second floor of the Kensington Park Hotel just off Union Square. For tickets please call 415-677-9596 or on line at www.sfplayhouse.org. Coming up next is a world premiere production of Theresa Rebeck's Seared opening on September 27 and running through November 12th.