‘City of Angels’ unties 40s style detective with musical theatre

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Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre

Be prepared for a challenge when attending Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre’s newest production of “City of Angels” where the detective crime/drama comes with a musical score.

The play sounds like a detective novel and the film noir genre. While watching it’s east to see shades of The Maltese Falcoln, To Have and Have Not, Double Indemnity, and the kind of movies Bogart and Bacall made famous.

Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre

The music, beautifully written, reflects the crooner-style of the 1940s Big Band era, while the upbeat music of Broadway musicals of the 1980s rounds out the score. The story, difficult to follow at first, revolves around a writer creating a screen play from his popular novel. The conflict comes when he loves his words more than the film’s producer and director.

While the producer and director want action and bullets to tell the story, the author wants to salvage his words. Their clash creates flashbacks and rewrites as different scenarios play out. Audiences will find this confusing as the action shifts from the lush colorful Hollywood to the black and white film noir motif. As such, characters in the Hollywood life are reflected in the black and white film so each actor plays parts in both the real and reel world.

Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre

With a book by Larry Gelbart, music by Cy Coleman, and lyrics by David Zippel, “City of Angels” captured six Tony Awards including Best Musical. The two memorable songs that attendees might recognize are “You Can Always Count on Me,” and I’m Nothing Without You.”

Audiences are challenged, at first, to understand the two “words” presented. Give credit to James Paisley for finding the right schematic to make characters appear in black and white when in the movie mode and in living color when in the Hollywood mode. Still, even with the lighting, the show is a difficult pull. That might be the reason theatre groups bypass “City of Angels” when planning seasons. One national tour visited Kansas City now long after its Tony wins. Since then the show has disappeared from touring groups.

Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre

“When Hollywood offers New York novelist Stine the opportunity to adapt his books into a film for the silver screen, he packs up and moves to the home of perennial sunshine, palm trees, and stars. ‘City of Angels’ moves between the beautiful Technicolor world of Hollywood and Stine’s glamorous film noir-in-progress of the same title,” the MET said. “While Stine’s movie plays out in black and white, Stine finds the dangerous temptations of the world of Los Angeles – the distraction of women, the lure of fame, and the artistic compromises.”

As stated, actors portray characters in the film and in Hollywood, so clarity is difficult until each audience member catches on. For actors, the relationship with the audience remains difficult because the film noir characters are as flat as their black and white characters and only the colorful characters can change or show growth. The casting is phenomenal and better vocal performances cannot be found.

Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre

The cast is: John Cleary, Michael Dragen, Cori Weber, Leah Swank-Miller, Rebecca Ralstin, Tim Ahlenius, Christiana Coffey, Andrew Paredes, Bob Paisley, Michael Scahill, Chad Burris, Raheem Fielder-Bey, Curtis Smith, Ray Zarr, Brenna McConaughey, Jefferson Harwood, Melanie Grantham, Christopher Nevins.

Among the cast, the really strong characters come from Cleary, Dragen and Ahlenius. For the ladies, Weber, Swank-Miller, and Ralstin are perfection in their roles. You want to see more of each character and his/her story. The vocal performances are perfection as well.

The only problem with “City of Angels” comes in it’s story and concept. Its just downright difficult. The only company to take on such a task is the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre, and they are known for taking on the unsurmountable and paring them down for local audiences.

Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre

Give credit to the production team for this undertaking. The show is directed by Karen Paisley with the help of her team: James Paisley, stage manager, Loren Bridge, musical director; Patty Whitlock, assistant stage manager and properties; Ornetta Johnson, stitcher; Shawn Walden, backstage crew; Wendy Thompson, wardrobe mistress; Alex Paxton, backstage crew: James Paisley, sound design and electrical design; Jeremy Riggs, fight director/backstage crew. The set crew is Doug Connett, James Paisley, Karen Paisley, Alex Paxton, Barrie Smith, Kyle Dyck, Will Green, Shawn Walden, Patty Whitlock.

Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre

Another strength of the production is the music directed by Loren Bridge. He said that the music was some of the most difficult he had ever conducted and that the orchestra assembles was some of the finest he had ever assembled. The “City of Angels” orchestra is: Piano-Pamela Watson, Keyboard-Deana Wagoner, Reed 1-Kameron Sheffield, Reed 2-Danielle M. Mays, Reed 3-Ron Mundt,Reed 4-Rick Firestone, Trumpet-Cody Young, Trombone-Chacko Finn, Drums-Tarquin Kellough, Bass-Brian Wigton.

Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre

Bridge continued his praise by saying that the artists made the musical score a joy to perform and conduct. He said that after one run through the orchestra was on top of the score from that point onward.

“City of Angels” run for five more performances at the Warwick Theatre on 40th and Main Street, Kansas City, Missouri. Tickets, times, and more information can be found at the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre website.

Tags: “City of Angels” review, Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre, Kansas City Theatre, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment

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