“City of Angels” is a light-hearted, entertaining send-up of all the clichés of the gumshoe genre filled with lively songs, great costumes and a capable cast.
The musical, playing at Park Slope’s “Gallery Players” through the end of the month, is actually two stories in one, as the drama unfolds through a screenwriter’s mind and in his personal life. The parallel tales are performed mostly by the same actors, hinting at how the writer uses real life to inspire his often-revised story.
The writer, Stine (played by Jared Toilo), is on the hook for a film-noir script that is being tampered with by a heavy-handed exec at the movie studio. As Stine struggles to write a story he can be proud of, the actors — performing his movie in real-time — occasionally pause, rewind, and say new lines — a clever trick that visualizes the creative process.
And it is clever moments like this that give this musical its momentum, though the second act runs a bit long as it gets bogged down in Mel Brooks-ian slapstick humor, non-sequiturs and extravagance.
Still, it’s the songs that make or break a musical, and “City of Angels” has plenty of catchy tunes with entertaining puns — the fruits of a marriage of music by Cy Coleman and a book by the great Larry Gelbart. Some of the most enjoyable are “You’re Nothing Without Me,” a song that hints at how fictional characters take on a life of their own. Also, “The Buddy System,” performed by Greg Horton as Buddy, the big shot at the movie studio, was a showstopper. (One line: “A lot of scribblers discover that what they write for the screen/isn’t right for the screen.”)
Horton’s booming voice carried exceptionally well, and it’s a shame the script didn’t allow him more opportunities to sing.
Lastly, “You Can Always Count On Me,” by another crowd-favorite Donna — and her fictional alter-ego, Oolie (both played by Blair Alexis Brown) — brought the house down with numerous witty lamentation about being a lady who gets no attention.
These numbers are made much more entertaining by a colorful set that captures the eye, as well as atmospheric lighting. When “City of Angels” premiered in 1989 on Broadway, the fictional portion was illuminated in black and white — but this production uses a dark green, which works just as well to create a retro feel.
The success of “City of Angels” reinforces the Gallery Players reputation as a theater that reinvigorates well-worn hits — recently, the Players staged a commendable version of “The Crucible.”
The musical also marks a comeback for the director, Trey Compton, whose previous work with the Gallery Players was the groan-inducing “Mrs. Bob Cratchit’s Wild Christmas Binge.”
Compton and the cast capture 1950s LA — the stylish femme fatales, desperate writers, even more desperate actors, sleazy movie executives and bottom-feeding criminals — in strong fashion.
“City of Angels” at the Gallery Players [199 14th St. between Fourth and Fifth avenues in Park Slope, (718) 595-0547], through May 23.