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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

City of Angels: No place for the ordinary

Published: April 11, 2008
Section: Arts, Etc.

Director Aaron Arbiter ’10 appropriately ended his note from the director in the City of Angels program saying, “This is no ordinary musical, so please sit back and enjoy the extraordinary.”

Certainly City of Angels is not your ordinary musical as the plot interweaves two stories in one. Stine (Ross Brown ’10), who plays the lead character in the “Hollywood” world, is a writer having trouble transposing his novel City of Angels into a movie screenplay. As Stine sits in the back corner of the stage typing the screenplay on his typewriter, the “movie” world comes to life led by Stone (Robert St. Laurence ’11), the suave detective in Stine’s movie – and his alter-ego.

Brown and St. Laurence both capture the essence of their characters. Brown shows the struggles Stine has with his story and his personal life, while St. Laurence pulls off the smooth talking, lady-friendly, and witty mannered Stone. When the two worlds of Stine and Stone blur into one, and the two characters sing their feature song, “You’re Nothing Without Me,” both St. Laurence and Brown bring their powerful voices together for form a dramatic duo.

Much credit has to be given to the female leads, Jennifer Faber ’09, Gavi Young ’09, and Sierra Kagen ’09, who all have to constantly switch in playing two different roles. Kagen especially stood out in her “movie” role as Alaura Kingsley, who seductively drags Stone into investigating the “disappearance” of her daughter, Mallory Kingsley (Arielle Kaplan ‘10).

Kagen commented on the female leads playing dual roles, “we all had to juggle the differences between our film noir and real-life characters. They had to be reminiscent, but different enough so as not to confuse our audience. And how does one play the femme fatale without coming off as cheesy or stilted?”

Another unique aspect of City of Angels was the location of the musicians. As opposed to the musicians sitting in the “pit,” not visible to the audience in front of the stage, the musicians have a prominent place right along with the performers on stage.

Conducted by Matthew Stern ’08, the pit handled a tough score very well but had trouble capturing the show’s jazzy feel while also balancing themselves with the singers. However, Stern was impressive in keeping the music in time with the singing since he had his back to performers. Stern said of prepping the music, “I had to find creative ways to teach the cast and band members how to understand [the difficulty of the music] in a way that would make it performable. In the end, everyone involved really met the challenges that were offered in the score.”

Credits for the excellent choreography go to Kaplan who said, “It was a huge undertaking to put on a show as complicated as City of Angels. This was the first time I choreographed a full-length show and it was a great to see it all come together in the end.”

The cast also did well in capturing the humor of City of Angels. The funniest performance, and the most impressive supporting character, came from Harrison Bannett ’11 playing Buddy Fidler in the Hollywood world and Irwin S. Irving in the movie. From the voice, to the mannerisms, Bannett perfectly plays the part of the Hollywood directory with an enormous ego.

The songs also have a lot of witty humor in its lyrics, mostly of the sexual variety. For example Stone and Alaura Kingsley trade off sexual innuendos in “The Tennis Song”- “I’ll bet you like to play rough/I like to work up a sweat/And you just can’t get enough/I’m good for more than one set /But I promise I’ll show no regret If you beat me/My backhand is clearly my forte/Shall we say the ball is in your court.”

Judging from the quality of the plot and the skill of the cast, this is one city, the audience does not mind spending a little time in.