A rarely performed musical, I, like most of the audience, knew very little about City of Angels before going to watch it at the Guild of Students last week. Indeed, most of the hype surrounding the play came from ‘those’ publicity photos which prompted uproar as certain individuals decried the images as sexist and inappropriate. However, after watching City of Angels, I completely disagree with those comments made. The costumes which featured in the posters and show were simply ways of portraying liberated, sexually active women who radiated confidence and sass. As well as ‘those’ costumes, the rest of the aesthetic of the piece was stunning.
The play encapsulates two stories running in parallel meaning that the vast majority of the performers played a character in each story. The initial story featured an author Stine adapting his novel into a screenplay, whilst the second showed Detective Stone and the other characters of the novel portraying the following scenes as they come to life in Stine’s head. This may sound confusing, however, the directorial decisions made it easy to follow, primarily due to the beautifully collated costume and dazzling use of tech – well done to Molly Isen, Andrew Piggin and Nikolay Todorov. The screenplay Stine writes is a gauzy film noir – the characters are all clad in black and white, and the stage is lit with shimmering spotlights making for a visually spectacular piece of theatre.
The film noir ambiance is continued and complimented by flowing live jazz music directed with panache by Geddy Stringer. As it is not frequently performed, I foolishly assumed that the City of Angels score would be underwhelming, however, the songs were beautiful, emotive and witty and I’ve found myself humming several of them for the rest of the weekend. The performances were strong across the board; however, there were some truly exceptional moments. Millie Harris shone as both of her characters – the dependable, overlooked secretary Oolie and the ‘other woman’ Donna in her fiery solo ‘You Can Always Count On Me’. Emily Anderson brought true passion and subtle differentiation between her two characters Gabby and Bobby making for a professional stand out performance. Comedic moments were brought from Charlie Harris as the sleazy producer, and Tom Ling who played a Mexican with such flair that it was easy to overlook his blonde hair and blue eyes.
However, despite the consistently strong actors and singers, I did have some frustrations with the production. Firstly, the entire pace was dragged down by arduously long scene changes that took place with no accompanying music or visuals meaning that the audience were left with a blacked out stage and able to hear the stage management clattering about. I understand that restrictions are placed on the production on what they can perform due to copyright issues, however, I do feel that some form of accompaniment could have been implemented and that the changes could have definitely been sped up. Secondly, I found that the choreography was one of the weaker elements of the production, particularly in comparison with other GMTG productions I have seen. The dancing was not as inventive, impressive or slick as I’d have expected, especially when accompanied with strong vocal performances. Finally, whilst it was an enjoyable production, the piece seemed to stay on one level all the way through and consequently there was not much dramatic tension or differentiation in moments that could have been incredibly exciting. Although the music, aesthetic and performances were very strong the production seemed fairly flat throughout, which was disappointing. However, on reflection, I’m unsure if this was maybe just the storyline itself leaving little to be desired.
Despite my criticisms, I did feel it was an excellent evening and was impressed by the standard and array of talent. There were many moments to be enjoyed and performances across the board that deserve much praise and GMTG should be very proud of themselves for such an ambitious student production.