Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron

City of Angels
Beck Center for the Arts
Review by Mark Horning

Also see Mark's reviews of The Testament of Mary and Ain't Misbehavin' and David's review of An Impending Rupture of the Belly

Leslie Andrews and Rob Albrecht
Photo by Kathy Sandham
What do you get when you combine the plot of a "real" time novelist working on his first Hollywood screenplay with his alternating "reel" time 1940s-style film noir story (with constant plot changes forced by his "real" time producer/director) with 18 songs thrown in along with nearly every hard-boiled gumshoe quote ever written?

If it's the Beck Center for the Arts production of City of Angels, you get a lot of confusion, especially when the orchestra nearly drowns out most of the dialog with unneeded background music. Even the most stalwart of audience members may get uncomfortable during the second half of this two and a half hour epic, and with good reason. It is a show that simply tries to do too much and takes its time in doing it.

After a jazzy musical number, the show begins with L.A. private eye Stone being brought to a hospital with a gunshot wound. As he lies on the gurney he has a flashback to a week earlier when his loyal girl Friday, Oolie (Brittni Shambaugh Addison), ushered in the wealthy and beautiful Alaura (Sonia Perez) who wants to hire Stone to find her "bad girl" daughter Mallory (Madeline Krucek). Stone takes the case in spite of his better judgment.

Suddenly the characters are rewound as variations of the dialog are tried. The lights come up on the left side of the stage revealing a man hunched over a typewriter. Stine (Jamie Koeth) is the author of the novel "City of Angels" and has been brought to Hollywood to write the screenplay. Stine is accompanied by his wife Gabby (Leslie Andrews), who thinks that her husband has sold out his talents.

Stine's nemesis in Hollywood is Buddy Fidler, who uses his power as director and producer to mold the film in his image ("The Buddy System") while taking full credit for it. Buddy is constantly demanding rewrites that include people from his life, such as his wife, secretary, acquaintances, friends, performers and, of course, himself.

Thus begins the alternating give and take as the "real" story and "reel" story fight for stage time. To add to the confusion is the fact that fourteen of the twenty-eight cast members (of which eleven are in the ensemble) play roles in both stories. Adding to the fun is that most of the principle characters are found hopping into bed on both sides of the convoluted story. Although the lighting for the "real" segment is brightly colored while the "reel" portion is muted to resemble black and white, there still seem to be moments of confusion in differentiating between the two.

Between the exhausting numbers of scenes (over 40), there is one bright spot as the Angel City 4 (Steven Huynh, Erin Niebuhr, Brianna O'Boyle, and Robert Pierce) sing jazzy bits that segue between the segments and highlight the musical talent of Cy Coleman, lyric-writing talent of David Zippel, Beck Center's own Martin C├ęspedes choreography.

As for the acting, the cast does the best that it can but there never seems to be a strong connection with the audience, or for that matter between the characters on stage. It is almost as if they are as much confounded by the intricacies of the plot and dual roles as those in the theater seats.

Some judicial editing of scenes and songs as well as the elimination of the overbearing incidental music during times of dialog would go a long way in improving this effort.

The Beck Center for the Arts City of Angels will be on stage in the Mackey Theater through August 13, 2017. Tickets may be purchased online at by calling (216) 521-2540. Show times and days are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays.

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