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 The Theatreguide.London Review

City Of Angels
Donmar Warehouse Theatre  Winter 2014-2015

This 1989 Broadway musical has a much-cleverer-than-average book by Larry Gelbart and sprightly songs by Cy Coleman (music) and David Zippel (lyrics). And if it is occasionally too clever for its own good and takes a while to warm up musically, those are quibbles that should not keep you from enjoying it fully.

Gelbart imagines a writer of detective stories adapting one of his books for a movie, and shows us both his experience and the story he's telling. So we get two plots for the price of one – a Hollywood satire, complete with interfering producer, brainless starlet and the like, and a loving pastiche of the hardboiled detective story, right down to sexy client and adoring secretary. 

Both are very well-done, and either one on its own might be enough to carry a musical very satisfactorily. But putting them together is more than just giving us twice as much, because they bounce off each other delightfully. 

Most of the cast play roles in both stories, with Katherine Kelly, for example, playing both the femme fatale and the actress vying for the role, while Rosalie Craig is both the writer's wife and the detective's old girlfriend, and in each case one role adds colour and depth to the other. 

From time to time the author's change of mind at the typewriter will force his creations to rewind and replay a scene, and eventually the writer and detective will start quarrelling with each other. 

This is all very entertaining and only occasionally a bit confusing, until the last fifteen minutes or so, when both plots have to be wound up at such speed, and with so many loose ends, that you could be forgiven for leaving the theatre not quite sure how either of them turned out. 

Musically the show takes a little too long to get going, the early numbers unimpressive, though there's a clever double-entendre seduction song for Katherine Kelly as the client and Tam Mutu as the detective.

It really isn't until the first act finale, when the 'tec turns on his creator and Tam Mutu and Hadley Fraser as the writer challenge each other with 'You're Nothing Without Me' that we get the rousing Cy Coleman anthem we've been longing for. 

Act Two is much stronger musically, and well worth the wait. Rebecca Trehearn, playing secretaries in both plot lines, sings 'You Can Always Count On Me', the wry but moving confession of a woman who always picks the wrong guys, and makes it fit both of her characters. Rosalie Craig as the writer's wife wrings all the drama and anger out of her analysis of his writing, his character and their marriage in 'It Needs Work'. 

Director Josie Rourke keeps things moving fluidly until the somewhat rushed and cluttered finish, and Stephen Mear's choreography is wisely – given the material, characters and small stage – generally limited to rhythmic crossings and scene changes. 

City Of Angels may make you stay alert a little more than some simpler musicals, and may make you wait for the best songs. But it delivers.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - City Of Angels - Donmar 2014    

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