Review: CITY OF ANGELS Jazzes It Up at NextStop

By: May. 16, 2016
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The Broadway composer Cy Coleman is completely underrated. His range of musicals stretch from traditional musical (Little Me) to 60's pop (Sweet Charity) to comic operetta (On The Twentieth Century). His greatest triumph is the hard jazz / film noire musical City of Angels. On Saturday night, the DC area professional premier opened at NextStop Theatre in Herndon, Virginia.

Artistic Director Evan Hoffmann takes a bold risk in staging this massive musical in an intimate setting with a scaled back cast. Mr. Hoffmann's vision of this miniature City is impressive and there are some truly outstanding aspects. First off, Cy Coleman's jazz score comes out in superb fashion with music director Elisa Rosman's intimiate 6-piece band. The original production was orchestrated by the great jazz trombonist Billy Byers and those charts received universal acclaim. Ms. Rosman has assembled some of the great musicians in this area and they truly are the strongest and most cohesive part of the show.

The "movie-within-a-musical" opens with the Angel City Four (Zac Brightbill, Carolyn Burke, Ward Ferguson, and Shaina L. Murphy) accompanying the projected credits singing the late Mr. Coleman's impressive harmonies and scat lyrics. The quartet, who also double as the ensemble, are fine singers but they are missing the cohesiveness of a quartet and don't blend their sound very effectively. They are not helped, however, by Sound Designer Nicholas Upchurch's staticy sound design and ineffective blend with the impressive band. For a musical about a movie, the opening credits are a nice touch, but the show misses the opportunity to revisit those projections and immerse the audience in the film using multimedia that was not as easily achieved in the original 1990 production.

Book writer Larry Gelbart had a great concept in casting the "movie" with real world counterparts. All of the main characters of the "reel world" have a "real world" counterpart. Because the original 30 member cast is dwindled down to 14 in this production, only the principal characters have doubles that make sense. The minor character doubling is forgotten due to the small scale of the cast which loses some of the comedy and at times due to the quick changes makes things a little messy to follow.

Out of the main characters Ryan Burke as the gumshoe, Stone and Katie Keyser as Stine's wife Gabby and nightclub singer Bobbi are two of the most impressive. Mr. Burke's gorgeous baritone is a joy to listen to and his voiceovers that are such a staple of the show work well with his voice (however hard to hear with the sound design). Ms. Keyser smoky voice is luscious as Bobbi particularly on "With Every Breath I Take" and as an actress is the strongest in making two distinct characters that compliment each other. Screenwriter Stine, played by Bobby Libby is good, and the strongest singer of the cast, but his Seymour Krelborn inspired Stine is a bit nebulous.

The remainder of the principal actors have some standout moments. John Loughney as producer Buddy Fiddler makes bold choices channeling his inner Paul Lynde but carries that persona over to one of the thugs in the movie, which makes following things a bit confusing. The gorgeous Mackenzie Newbury as the "Lost and Found" Mallory oozes sexuality and the recent CUA grad is just getting her feet wet in the professional theatre scene so I expect big things from her in the future.

On the technical side of things Lighting Designer AnnMarie Castrigno and Costume Designer Kristina Martin nail the colors between the black and white world of the movie and vibrant world of 1940's LA. One standout moment is the end of Act One during the impressive duet between Stone and Stine when Ms. Castrigno paints the stage with the lights in a precise way while Ms. Martin's costume are appropriately polar opposites of each other.

For the most part the show is successful. Despites some of the technical shortcomings, the overall concept and design is strong and Mr. Hoffmann made some great choices in his concept and it is a joy to listen to Cy Coleman's amazing and rarely produced score.

With Teresa Danskey, Katie McManus, Mark Hidalgo, Scott Harrison and Grant Saunders. City of Angels runs through June 5, 2016 at NextStop Theatre, 269 Sunset Park Drive, Herndon, VA, 20170. For tickets call the box office at 866-811-4111 or visit their website.

Photo credits: Traci J. Brooks Studios