by Jeremy Chapman, Musical Theatre Review
City of Angels, performed by the Royal Academy of Music’s Musical Theatre Company, continues at the Susie Sainsbury Theatre, London until 8 July 2019.
Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
At three hours long and far from straight-forward, it needed a highly polished production to keep the audience interested and involved and that’s exactly what it gets with this far-from-angelic City of Angels at the Royal Academy of Music.
The final-year graduates make Larry Gelbart’s witty, clever script snap, crackle and pop from the get-go with director Bruce Guthrie never allowing the pace to flag. He has full co-operation from a versatile cast bang on the money, right down to the smallest part.
We are in the film noir era of the late 1940s, a Raymond Chandler world of gangsters and floosies, private eyes, guns, sassy women, murder and general mayhem.
On one side of the stage, the “real” world of an unfaithful writer who has to compromise his craft if he wants to make a living; on the other, the “reel” world of a Hollywood movie set with its petulant divas and rampant egos.
Stine is a scriptwriter whose work is being undermined and constantly redrafted by camp film producer Buddy Fidler; Stone is the tough private detective he has created who doesn’t fancy finding a missing step-daughter but reluctantly takes the job because money talks and attractive client Alaura is paying well.
He finds her all right, under the duvet in his own bed and ready for action, but manages to resist her under-age charms.
Whereas all the other parts, fact and fiction, are duplicated by the same performer, Stine and Stone don’t “meet” until their fabulous duet at the end of each act – ‘You’re Nothing Without Me’, which brings Act I to a rousing climax, turns into ‘I’m Nothing Without You’ in a thrilling finale.
It’s a great number, wonderfully choreographed by Lee Proud, which Richard Upton as Stine and George Whitty as Stone deliver brilliantly. Both leads sing, act and work together so superbly that both can surely look forward to big futures.
Amelia Gabriel’s naughty Mallory reveals a fine voice in ‘Lost and Found’, Robert Madge’s ego-mad OTT producer gets plenty of laughs in a fine characterisation, Jennie Neumann is an alluring Alaura and Paris Paraskevadis Planets’ bearded Muñoz, who used to work with Stone but now bears a grudge against him, an amusingly sinister cop.
A tremendous team effort by a cast of 17 is helped by having some cracking Cy Coleman/David Zippel material to work with. Edwin Wan oozes confidence as vain radio singer Jimmy Power, while twin-cast Amy Parker’s Bobbi/Gabby and Eliza Waters’ Donna/Oolie make the most of their big moments.
Throughout the piece, Coleman’s authentically jazzy score, rich and infectious, is lovingly interpreted by the 19 members of the City of Angels Orchestra under joint MDs Luke Holman and Ezra Van Nassauw.
Simon Wells’ outfits, right in period, are spectacular and it’s hard to say enough about David Harris’ imaginative set or the skilful use of graphics and videos (credit to video designer Gillian Tan). Act I could have done with five or six minutes being cut but it would be picky to find other imperfections.
No wonder City of Angels won six Tonys in 1990, including Best Musical and Best Original Score, and a Best Musical Revival Olivier for its Donmar run in 2014. It is a slick, sharp feast of entertainment and these uber-talented students did it proud.