City of Angels at Donmar WarehouseCultureTheatre
Donmar Warehouse’s revival of City of Angels, the relatively modern musical from Larry Gelbart, Cy Coleman and David Zippel, tells the story of a writer commissioned to turn his noir detective novel into a screenplay, revealing the parallels between his characters and his life. It’s a fairly funny play, with moments of light parody of noir, but comes from a place of affection that fans of the genre will love.
The cast does an excellent job of delivering Zippel’s sizzling lyrics, which, flying back and forth at a blistering speed, might have been easy to lose otherwise. It has to be said that Hadley Fraser does not sparkle quite as brightly as he might have as Stine, as he does not really sell the high notes. It’s like he’s holding something back. Stand-out performances do come from Rebecca Trehearn, who demands attention as soon as she enters, as well as the scenes between Tam Mutu’s Stone and Marc Elliott’s Munoz, which have a real chemistry to them.
The production design drips with character. The use of video projection across levels brings to life the tension between the real world and fiction. The duets between real characters and fictional ones are particularly enjoyable, the highlight of the show being the Act One closer You’re Nothing Without Me between Stone and Stine. The use of colour in the design – notably the costume design – is inspired in its division of the two worlds. Not only does it do its job, it makes sense while doing it. All this is complemented by wonderful lighting that takes the constant smoke haze around the stage and whips it into atmosphere.
The band (wherever they are) are first-rate, and the sound design is admirable, as it’s a difficult job to have an actor sing over brass without losing them.
In many ways City of Angels challenges the limits of what a musical can do and, while Josie Rourke’s production is a very immersive experience, it lacks a certain fire – although that might be a deficiency in the show rather than its staging.
City of Angels is on at Donmar Warehouse until 7th February 2015, for further information or to book visit here.