Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Lyric Stage Company of Boston Presents "City of Angels" - Devilishly Good Fun!



From the time I first listened to the Broadway cast album of "City of Angels," I have been a big fan of this Tony Award-winning musical.  The writing is superb - book by Larry Gelbart, lyrics by David Zippel,and music by Cy Coleman.  There is an intelligence to this show that serves to project both a celebration of Film Noir and a send-up of the genre.  It is a complex show to produce and a complicated story to tell.  The folks at Lyric Stage Company of Boston, under the inspired direction of Spiro Veloudos, have done justice to this dark gem of a show, and you have until May 2  to  watch the magic happen on the Lyric stage.

The story is really two stories at once - a film within a play.  The two levels of story are told in parallel - real life in Hollywood alongside "reel life" on the screen.  Successful novelist, Stine, has signed a three picture deal to turn his most recent novel, "City of Angels," into a screenplay.  Director/producer/mogul, Buddy Fidler, is intent on changing virtually everything about the script.  Complications and tensions arise.  On the film side of the story, Stine's protagonist is Stone, a private eye with a shady past as an LA cop.  Into his down-at-the-heels office walks Alaura Kingsley, a femme fatale of the first order.  And we are off and running with complications and lies, double-crosses and betrayals, beatings and shootings and other forms of Film Noir nastiness.  Except for the actors who play Stine and Stone, everyone else doubles as characters in real life and in the film.

This dual story is told on a stage that uses multiple levels.  The upper level is utilized primarily by Stone and his typewriter on one side and Buddy Fidler and his "casting desk" on the other side.  The lower level is where most of the action takes place.  The set was elegantly designed by Matt Whiton. Lighting by John Malinowski, Sound by David Wilson, Projection by Jonathan Carr and period Costumes by Elisabetta Polito create an atmosphere that exudes the 1940s and the German Expressionism that inspired Film Noir.

The play begins with a soaring Doo-Wop number by the Angel City 4 - Sarah Kornfeld, Elise Arsenault, Andrew Tung and Brandon Milardo.  They were backed up by a six piece orchestra under the Musical Direction of Catherine Stornetta.  This show runs at a brisk pace, and much of that pace is dictated by the non-stop cavalcade of catchy tunes.  The songs often serve to move the narrative foward and to stitch together the two levels of storytelling - real and reel.

Ed Hoopman as Stone
Angel City 4
"City of Angels"
The Lyric Stage of Boston
Through May 2


Mr. Veloudos has assembled a cast of strong voices and strong personalities.  The full cast list can be seen with their bios in the link below.

City of Angels Cast and Creative Team

Standing out among this ensemble are a number of actors, many of whom are familiar faces to Boston audiences.

Phil Tayler as Stine
Jennifer Ellis as Gabby
"City of Angels"
The Lyric Stage of Boston
Through May 2
  • Phil Tayler portrays the screenwriter Stine.  He is finding his work heavily edited by his boss, Fidler, and his philandering life heavily redacted by his unhappy wife, Gabby.  Mr. Tayler shines brightest in his confrontations with Fidler, played by J.T. Turner, and in his interactions with his fictional creation Stone, played by Ed Hoopman.  The duet that he shares with Stone to close Act I is a highlight of the show.  The two of them - creature and creator - face off to proclaim that each is reliant on the other for his very existence. "You're Nothing Without Me" is a brilliant piece of writing brilliantly executed by these two professionals operating at the height of their game.
  • Ed Hoopman is a rock as Stone!  His sonorous baritone speaking voice gives gravitas to the private detective, and adds throw weight to the one-line zingers that the writers have given him as ammunition to hurl in foiling a succession of foes.  His singing voice blends well with that of Mr. Tayler in the dueling duet mentioned above.  It pairs well with the voice of Alaura Kingsley (Samantha Richert) in the double-entendre rich song "The Tennis Song." Mr. Hoopman is masterful in balancing a Humphrey Bogart suaveness with a Peter Sellers vulnerability that makes this performance both praiseworthy and memorable.
  • Jennifer Ellis plays the dual roles of Gabby, Stine's wife and Bobbi, Stone's ex-wife.  She is magnificent.  Her sultry "With Every Breath I Take" Torch Song as Bobbi is a highlight of the show.  Another memorable moment is her taunting and saucy number "It Needs Work" as Gabby puts Stine in his place as he lamely attempts to write an alibi for why Gabby's call to Stine's hotel room was answered by Donna (Leigh Barrett)
  • Leigh Barrett plays the roles of two women who allow themselves to be used by the men in their lives - Donna in Hollywood and Oolie in the movie.  She nearly steals the show in these roles.  As Oolie, she shares a duet with Ms. Ellis as Gabby that shows just how clueless Stone and Stine can be in dealing with the women in their lives.  "What You Don't Know About Women" is brilliantly staged, with Gabby in real life (stage right) appearing in living color and Oolie in the film (stage left) appearing in black and white and grays. Visually, this song and this scene set the tone for the show.  In Act II, Ms. Barrett sings a duet with herself as both Oolie and Donna. "You Can Always Count On Me" lays out her two characters' perennial curse of falling for guys who treat them as someone for men"to wipe their feet on."  Both women bemoan the fact that they allow themselves to be taken advantage of and never learn their lesson.  The song is brilliantly written, and Ms. Barrett nails it.  Brava!
  • Megham LaFlam is the sultry and dangerous Mallory, whose diasppearnace Stone has been asked to solve.  She shows up in an unexpected place and seductively sings to Stone "Lost and Found."  It is her moment in the show to shine, and she sparkles.
  • Tony Castellanos as Lieutenant Munoz is Stone's former partner on the LA Police Force, and now his sworn enemy.  He looks forward to seeing Stone sent to the gas chamber for a murder that Stone has been framed for.  He lays out his dastardly hopes and dreams in the charming and hilarious number "All You Have To Do Is Wait."  Choreographer Rachel Bertone deserves a shout-out for the staging of this number  The incongruent Conga Line is worth the price of admission!
Phil Tayler as Stone
Leigh Barrett as Donna
"City of Angels"
The Lyric Stage of Boston
Through May 2
If you are a fan of good theater and of Film Noire, this one is a no-brainer: order your tickets now. And hold on tight to those ducats.  You would not want them to end up in the Lost & Found!

Ed Hoopman as Stone
Samantha Richert as Alaura Kingsley
"City of Angels"
The Lyric Stage of Boston
Through May 2


 The musical will run at the Lyric  Stage Company of Boston through May 2.


Enjoy!

Al


Monday, March 30, 2015

Happy Medium Theatre & Argos Productions Present "Lifers" by John Shea & Maureen Cornell - at The Boston Playwrights' Theatre through April 4


When the folks at Happy Medium Theatre lost their home performance space in the wake of the closing of the Factory Theater, they got creative.  For this season's initial production, "Lifers," they have teamed with Argos Productions and moved their operation across town to Boston Playwrights' Theatre.  In keeping with the theme of this show, I would have to say that Happy Medium pairs well with Argos Productions, for this play is a satisfying meal of good writing and acting that is worthy of a generous tip.

Playwrights John Shea and Maureen Cornell must have spent some time in the kitchens of greasy spoons to get a feel for the frenetic pace and for the down and dirty banter that is on the bill of fare each day for the cook, wait staff and newly promoted manager.  The play is set in 2004 on the eve of the introduction of the smoking ban in the Commonwealth.There is plenty of tension in the air and many changes afoot. Lots of local Boston flavor is served up in this script, with inside jokes about the rich kid from Wellesley coming to work as the newest waiter in a restaurant that is undergoing pretentious upgrades to service the Yuppies that are re-gentrifying the old neighborhood.  The authors have created some stock characters: the randy short-order cook, the "lifer" waitress who has seen it all, the single Mom struggling to balance her job, her kid and her multiple addictions, the new kid on the block and the gay waiter who hopes to get the newbie into the walk-in-fridge.  Oh, and the self-important manager who lets a little power go to her head.  In the hands of a less talented ensemble, there might be the danger of the characters coming across as cartoonish and one-dimensional, but Director Brett Marks does not allow that to happen. I found myself caring about what would happen to each of these characters.

Maureen Adduci as Marie
Mikey DiLoreto as Michael
Lizette Morris as Carla
"Lifers"
Happy Medium Theatre
&
Argos Productions
Boston Playwrights' Theatre
Through April 4

  •  Maureen Adduci is very convincing as the jaded and bedraggled Marie, who has been at this job for over 30 years.You can almost smell the stale cigarette smoke in her uniform and feel the fallen arches from three decades of lugging trays of food for regulars like "Captain Jack.".  
  • Peter Brown is Doyle, the Southie-accented cook who does not like change, and who insists on screaming out that the orders are "up" - even after the new manager installs a more gentile bell to serve the same purpose. He and Marie clearly have a history that is on again - off again. 
  • David D'andrea is Winfield, the recent BU grad who has decided to take a year working in the trenches before heading off to grad school or to work for some noble cause.  His Wellesley-based father, a successful real estate developer, is less than pleased with Winfield's decision to go slumming.  The character and the actor go through a very nice arc from insecure new kid on the block, to frazzled rookie to confident veteran - all in the space of a single year.
  • Mikey DiLoreto is Michael, disappointed in love and furious that Sherry got promoted to manager when he felt he had been promised the job by the former owner who had recently died.  Despite his own frustrations, he is a rock for Carla, who is barely holding things together. He makes some life-changing choices as the action of the play develops.
  • Lizette Morris is very convincing as the coke-snorting Carla, who just cannot seem to keep it together.  Her rage and frustration often boil over onto Sherry, with whom she attended school back in the day.  Michael and Marie work hard to protect Carla and her job.
  • Audrey Sylvia is wonderfully exasperating as the officious Sherry.  She spouts bromides and rah-rah team speak while driving her former compatriots crazy with her changes and pretensions.
Audrey Sylvia as Sherry
David D'Andrea as Winfield
Peter Brown as Doyle
"Lifers"
Happy Medium Theatre
&
Argos Productions
Boston Playwrights' Theatre
Through April 4



All of this action takes place on a marvelously realistic set designed by Marc Ewart.  Combined with lighting by Emily McCourt, we have the feel of a real restaurant kitchen where the new waiter must struggle to learn to "marry the ketchup bottles"!


You have one more week to sample what is on the menu at Boston Playwrights' Theatre.  Click on the link below and order up a couple of tickets, with some bacon on the side.

Argos Productions Website

Enjoy!  And Bon Appetit!

Al