City of Angels

Reuben Liversidge

The hilarious, witty and sexy Broadway classic finally gets a professional staging in Melbourne.
City of Angels

Photo by Ben Fon

It’s taken 25 years but musical comedy classic City of Angels has finally opened a professional production in Melbourne thanks to Life Like Company. City of Angels deconstructs classic film noir tropes whilst also exploring the dark machinations of the classic Hollywood studio system. This hilarious, witty and sexy show won six Tony Awards when it first opened on Broadway and has had two runs on the West End, the most recent revival played earlier this year at the Donmar Warehouse. This clever musical features a brassy jazz infused score by Cy Coleman (the composer of Sweet Charity), deliciously smart lyrics by David Zippel, a pitch perfect book by Larry Gelbart and a unique concept; there are dual narratives that play out alongside each other before the lines between fiction and reality become blurred.

Stine (Anton Berezin) is an author working in 1940’s Hollywood adapting one of his novels into a screenplay. As we follow the development of the script the fictional story of surly private detective Stone’s (Kane Alexander) search for a missing wealthy teenager is played out on the other side of the stage. Soon both the ‘real’ and the ‘reel’ worlds begin to merge and Stine begins to accept that if he is to take control of his own destiny he may need the help of his creation, Stone.

The score is infectious and incredibly enjoyable for an audience to hear, however it is notoriously intricate and difficult for any musician or performer to tackle. Under the baton of accomplished musical director Kellie Dickerson the actors and orchestra in this production attack the score with thrilling energy and confidence. The 13-piece orchestra is suitably bold and brassy and the cast, particularly the Angel City Quartet, navigate Coleman’s complex harmonies and scatty jazz themes brilliantly. Local audiences are unlikely to hear a better sounding City of Angels again.

Berezin and Alexander lead the cast with strength and confidence. Berezin has a powerful voice that wowed the opening night crowd and Alexander’s portrayal of Stone is suave and commanding. The remainder of the cast plays multiple roles in both narratives and each performer is to be congratulated for navigating numerous quick changes and various accents with aplomb.

As Donna and Oolie, the unlucky in love secretaries of Stine and Stone, musical theatre star Amanda Harrison sings the role predictably well (her second act number ‘You Can Always Count On Me’ is a showstopper) but the biggest surprise is her effortless comic timing. Harrison is a natural comedian.

Chelsea Plumley almost steals the show as Stine’s neglected wife Gabby and Stone’s sexy femme fatale Bobbi. More than any other performer in the show Plumley successfully straddles the line between sincerity and over the top parody. Her thrilling singing voice goes from a traditional legit mix to a smoky and sexy breathless jazz style at the drop of a hat.

Troy Sussman brings boundless energy and showmanship to his portrayal of controlling studio executive Buddy Fidler, Anne Wood is a delightfully droll Alaura Kingsley and Adam Fiorentino nails his ethnically diverse accents astonishingly well.

Director Martin Croft handles the complicated dual narratives smoothly ensuring that there is very little confusion for the audience. Any production of City of Angels requires quick cinematic cuts between scenes and locations and Croft pulls off these transitions with relative success. There are a few moments that drag and actors are sometimes positioned in a freeze awkwardly during blackouts, but these rare moments ultimately do not detract from what is a sensational production.  

Kim Bishop’s costumes are simply divine; a monochromatic palette of blacks, whites and greys are used for the noir world and bright splashes of Technicolor for the Hollywood scenes. Corrine Day’s gorgeous wigs and make-up designs complete the professional look. Every single person up on stage looks perfect for the show.

Life Like Company’s production is an absolute joy to watch; it’s classy, fun and hugely entertaining. After first dipping their toes into the musical theatre scene last year with their accomplished production of Sondheim’s Passion this company continues to grow and improve. City of Angels is so impressive that this reviewer awaits their next project with baited breath.

Rating: 4 stars out of 5 

City of Angels
Presented by Life Like Company
Book by Larry Gelbart
Music by Cy Coleman
Lyrics by David Zippel
Directed by Martin Croft
Musical Direction by Kellie Dickerson
With Kane Alexander, Amanda Harrison, Anton Berezin, Chelsea Plumley, Troy Sussman, Rohan Browne and Anne Wood

The Playhouse, The Victorian Arts Centre, Melbourne
5-8 November 2015

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Reuben Liversidge is based in Melbourne. He has trained in music theatre at the VCA, film and theatre at LaTrobe University, and currently works as Head Talent Agent for the Talent Company of Australia.