For me City of Angels is just what a musical should be. It has a catchy score, a fantastically talented cast and is highly entertaining.
The production, now on at the Donmar Warehouse, follows two plotlines which unfold simultaneously onstage. One is about a writer, Stone, who is adapting his novel into a screenplay in collaboration with Buddy, a Hollywood producer. We watch them create a detective-style film together about Inspector Stine. The other plotline revolves around Stine and begins when a glamorous woman, Alaura hires the inspector to find her missing daughter, Mallory.
Together Stone and Buddy create a detective story that becomes increasingly difficult to follow as they both rewrite and revise the script as they go along. The editing adds to the comedy of the musical as the actors rewind and re-do scenes whenever Stone makes changes and they act out new scenes as he rewrites them. The written words are projected onstage as they are written which made me notice and question the actors’ lines more as the fictional writer was considering them too.
Stone becomes reluctant to make changes to his original novel. He and Buddy appear to have different visions for the film resulting in an incoherent yet incredibly entertaining screenplay that parodies old 1940s detective films. Buddy wants to create an unrealistic and lighter plot whilst Stone’s original novel includes some social commentaries too.
Stone’s Hollywood pay packet loses its allure as the production goes on and his downfall in real life reflects the chaotic screenplay. It’s a story about the parallels between the characters in his real life and in the screenplay which are played by the same actors.
Most of the actors have two parts but this is not confusing because the characters of the screenplay dress in monochrome colours to reflect the black and white films, whereas the characters of the writer’s world dress in colour. Elements like this make the musical stand out as there is attention to subtle details that aid the plotline.
The musical is very comical but it’s not just a flashy West-End show; it provides more depth and self-awareness at points. More could have been made of those moments, however, to give the production more weight. It touches on bigger themes but doesn’t really explore them.
Having said that it is hard to fault the actors in this and the staging is particularly creative. A split stage makes the divide between the two stories more obvious and lighting is used to great effect to render the potentially confusing story much clearer. The set is very visually impressive. The audience are faced with a wall of books that can be climbed, jumped on and walked up and this complements the plot very well.
The cast work well together; the interactions between Stine (Hadley Fraser) and Stone (Tam Mutu) stand out as something else. As they are part of separate plotlines the two characters cannot reach each other but they fight one another for space on the stage to try and assert their dominance.
All in all it’s a visually impressive production and a must for any musical fans. If you go you’re sure to be entertained and make sure you look out for the clever use of colour in the costumes.
City of Angels is on at the Donmar Warehouse until the 7th February.