A sold-out house enjoyed Vintage Theatre's exceedingly clever production of “City of Angels” on Feb. 9, engaged and following the musical's parallel 1940s Hollywood stories throughout the evening — in black and white and Technicolor.
A six-piece band, stair-stepped against the rear of the stage performed a jazzy, lively score while the actors switched smoothly (usually) from shooting a noir 1940s vintage film in black and white to the Hollywood behind- the- scenes machinations involved, with an egotistical producer, assorted bimbos and other characters. There are two musical scores: one pure 1940s movie sound track, while the other speaks to emotions and events.
This is an imaginative, and we'd presume, really challenging piece to stage — which perhaps explains why we haven't seen it previously. It won six 1990 Tony Awards, for Best Musical, Book, Score, Set Design, actor, featured actress for its creators: music by Cy Coleman; lyrics by David Zippel, with a book by Larry Gelbart (who wrote much of “Mash”).
In his director's notes, Brian Walker Smith writes that he was reluctant to take it on until he read 20 pages of the script and heard the music, which he describes as “Manhattan Transfer style of Jazz-pop.” He called producer Craig Bond and persuasive stage manager Rebecca Joseph and said “let's do it.” He has managed to juggle a huge number of set/character/costume changes without losing the story threads.
We open with tough guy private eye Stone (Ken Paul) in his office, where he is visited by sexy Alaura (Abby Apple Boes) with a “delicate situation” to propose to him. This is in black and white and is the beginning of a movie being shot off and on throughout. Switch to color and we meet scriptwriter Stine (Jerry Cunningham) at a typewriter, constantly revising the script. And it's off and running…
Aside from Stone and Stine, each of the 18 cast members plays two parts -- in the film and in the Hollywood scene -- requiring lightning-fast costume changes, as well as vocal and dancing skills. (PiperArpan is choreographer, Traci Kern is music director and Erin Leonard is costumer.)
As readers might suspect, there are two happy endings. “City of Angels” offers a most entertaining evening.
If you go:
“City of Angels” plays through March 3 at the Vintage Theatre, 1468 Dayton St., Aurora. Performances: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 24 and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, March 3. Tickets cost $30 ($25 in advance): 303-856-7830, vintagetheatre.com. There is lots of free parking.