Saturday, July 16, 2016

City of the Angels: ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

Debuting in 1989 and written about the Hollywood of the late 1940s, the 2016 San Francisco Playhouse production of "City of the Angels" is a rare example where production and staging match and sometimes even outmatch the cast and music. Bill English's direction and set (including a brilliant staging piece at the end which led the audience to applaud as loudly as they had for the singers), along with Michael Oesch's lighting and projections by Theodore J.H. Hulsker bring us directly inside this clever fantasy, where a writer and a Hollywood mogul lock horns over the sanctity of the written word.

We loved Monique Hafen as Donna, the under-appreciated assistant, and Brandon Dahlquist as Stone, the fictional detective. Stone owes his existence to Stine (Jeffrey Brian Adams), the Pulitzer Prize winning author whose book is being pounded into pulp by agent/director Buddy Fiddler (Ryan Drummond).

Hafen stands out as a singer and comedienne while Dahlquist brings us macho mixed with a surprisingly pure upper register. Jeffrey Brian Adams plays Stine with low-key emotion. 

But it's Drummond who keeps threatening to steal the show with his perfect send up of Buddy Fiddler. Every time he goes into one of his shticks or pseudo-rages, his entire body shakes. He is a pleasure to watch.

Buddy's song "Double Talk" in Act 2 is one of the show's best, along with Stone and vamp Alaura (Nancy Zoppi)'s "The Tennis Song." The show's ear-worm "You're Nothing Without Me," transcends most duets since this one is sung by the writer and the character he has invented. Then, satisfyingly, the song turns into a traditional love song with the Reprise in Act 2.

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "City of the Angels" Three Stars with a BANGLE of PRAISE. The production is definitively Four Star quality. But there are a few question marks, which have to do with a rangy score by Cy Coleman that calls for fabulous singers. Not everyone in this cast is up to that standard yet. We love the story and production and hope the music can grow to match it during the run.

The BANGLE OF PRAISE is for Melissa Torchia's wonderful costumes, all done within the motif of full color for real people and muted pastels for characters in the movie. Another mention must be made of Ken Brill's face. The man must be made out of silly putty. This is a terrific show.

City of the Angels
San Francisco Playhouse
450 Post Street, San Francisco
Second Floor of the Kensington Park Hotel
Through Sept. 17

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