Wednesday 31 December 2014

City of Angels @ The Donmar Warehouse

City of Angels The Donmar Warehouse

A corrupt detective who speaks through inner-monologue.  Femme fatales and vampy dames.  Low key lighting with dramatic shadows.  And of course, a murder.

Cy Coleman's City of Angels is a musical pastiche of film noir conventions.  In the dark (presumably rain soaked) streets of LA, Detective Stone (Tam Mutu) is tasked by the beautiful Alaura Kingsley (Katherine Kelly) to find her missing daughter Mallory (Samantha Barks) but ends up being framed for murder in a plot that's convoluted, messy and difficult to follow.

That, however, is somewhat the point.  More than anything, City of Angels is about the corruption of Hollywood.  You see, the plight of Stone is a story that's being written in front of us by novelist Stine (Hadley Fraser) who is adapting his book of the same name into a screenplay.  Stine, though, is in his own battle with film producer Buddy Fidler (Peter Polycarpou) who is quite literally fiddling with the script.  With parallel characters between the film world and the real world, soon art begins to imitate life - and vice versa.

Stone's murder case may take the fore, but mostly the show is a juxtaposition between books and films; words and visuals.  This manifests literally in the set, the backdrop split into stacks of books and celluloid, whilst the two distinct worlds are cleverly delineated by the use of colour and monochrome in both props, costumes and lighting.

The script certainly has its witticisms as it pokes fun at the source material, but the story itself is pretty silly.  That said, it's the cinematic visuals that really impress.  The use of projection is remarkable, not only providing opening and end credits but literally writing the story in front of us in typed font.  As the script changes, the actors literally and hilariously reverse their actions.  The production genuinely feels like a film come to life.

Suitably, the score is 40s jazz, full of swing and catchy, toe-tapping tunes.  The singing is excellent across the board, but Rebecca Trehearn (playing loser secretaries Donna/Oolie) is exceptional performing the show's standout number, "You Can Always Count On Me".  Even in minor dual roles, Rosalie Craig offers some superb vocals, and both Fraser and Mutu make for comparably gripping protagonists - their competitive duet "You're Nothing Without Me" is a highlight.  A quartet of singers (Angel City Four) provide scat-singing accompaniment, adding a soulful flavour.

Director Josie Rourke has delivered an incredibly slick production that balances the moody and comic elements of the show.  The plot may leave you feeling empty, but this City of Angels is one dame that's easy to fall for.


Watch: City of Angels runs at the Donmar Warehouse until 7th February.