April 28, 2006

UT’s City of Angels takes flight

What do you get when you mix a musical with film noir? City of Angels.

This weekend, the Reynolds Club’s first-floor theater hosts fourth-year Reid Aronson’s ambitious direction of this Broadway hit. And just to let you know, the musical has been running since fourth week, so today and Saturday will be your last chance to catch it.

The performance is truly well done, especially considering the script. Running close to three hours—two hours and 40 minutes by my watch—City of Angels runs a bit too long, but, then again, so do some music videos. The complicated plot follows Stine (Kevin Busch), a Hollywood writer working on a screenplay, and his sceenplay’s protagonist, Detective Stone (Christian Doll). Throughout the production, Stine and Stone lose themselves in a tangled meta-fiction with far too many twists; for the finale, they even switch roles as writer and character.

The original production of City of Angels hit Broadway in 1989 with great acclaim—it eventually won a Tony for best musical—but the story I witnessed didn’t seem that impressive. For UT, pulling off this script is undoubtedly a very daunting task, which Aronson accomplishes with only a few glitches.

Interacting superbly with the other characters—and even the keyboardist—Harry Nangle, as Buddy, brings some flavorful, refreshing comedy to the musical.

The only downfall comes when the gap between Broadway and UT is most apparent—in the multi-vocal songs. Some of the group serenades require forceful, almost professional singing that comes off mumbled in the UT performance. But all in all, the production’s flaws were understandable, stemming from a lack of resources. Technically, the script has only two leads, but for the performance to really work, nine strong actors are a necessity. Luckily, the majority of the production takes place with only three or four actors on stage. In these scenes, the acting really shines.

Busch, as Stine, and Doll, as Stone, carry the show. Busch shows real emotion, making Stine’s conflicted adulterer quite likable. Doll, on the other hand, rattles the walls of the theater with an impressive voice—and acting to match. As Detective Stone, a classic film noir P.I. with a just-the-facts mindset, Doll performs brilliantly.

The male leads really shine, but playing the multi-layered female roles, Rebecca Phillips and Vanessa Tantillo hold their own as well. Although onstage for only half the play, Phillips, as Gabby/Bobbi, impresses as a great physical actress with an amazing voice. And Tantillo, as a sexually frustrated secretary, gets to vent her frustrations through song with an equally awe-inspiring voice. Both are excellent.

Probably my favorite part of all film noirs are the femme fatales, and in this production of City of Angels they are not in short supply. With Phillips, Tantillo, Elizabeth Hanley, Liz Sefton, Sally Hall, Rebecca Rothschild, Annelise Pitts, and Elizabeth Godfrey, the cast features some of the University’s most talented and beautiful women.

In conclusion, if you haven’t yet seen City of Angels, go judge for yourself. I can tell you this much: The lead acting won’t disappoint. The students involved really exceeded my expectations, and everyone involved deserves our sincerest praise for their hard work. Aronson chose an ambitious script and pulled it off admirably. How can you not respect that?