Lyric’s ‘City of Angels’ delights on several levels

Leigh Barrett, Phil Tayler, and J.T. Turner in Lyric Stage Company's "City of Angels." Photo by Mark S, Howard

Leigh Barrett, Phil Tayler, and J.T. Turner in Lyric Stage Company’s “City of Angels.” Photo by Mark S. Howard

BOSTON – It’s easy to skewer Hollywood, and no one is better at it than Hollywood – “Singin’ in the Rain” is a skilled example – with the possible exception of live theater.

Yes, the musical “City of Angels” now at the Lyric Stage Company does do a theatrical tap-dance on Tinseltown, but it also incorporates two other popular genres: the film noir starring the hard-bitten detective, and “the show within a show” concept, a la “Kiss Me. Kate” among many.
The action shifts back and forth from the so-called “reel world “ – the making a film called “City of Angels” – and the characters acting out the script as it is being written by Stine (Phil Tayler), the novelist who has signed a lucrative three-picture deal to come to Hollywood in the late 1940’s and adapt his work for the screen.

Ed Hoopman and Samantha Richert in "City of Angels." Photo: Mark S. Howard

Ed Hoopman and Samantha Richert in “City of Angels.” Photo: Mark S. Howard

That includes “City of Angels,” the adventures of a hard-bitten private eye named Stone, winningly played by Ed Hoopman. Several of the actors play dual roles, and Leigh Barrett manages to steal scenes in both of hers; the piece works as yet another showcase for Barrett.
Yes, we know she can sing, but sometimes we forget what a fine actress she is, here as the world-weary Oolie, Stone’s long-suffering secretary, and Donna, the cynical secretary of J.T. Turner, who’s over-the-top as studio mogul Barney Fidler. He sees Stine’s script as a prop, a mere starting point towards wherever it is he wants to go with the movie that day.
Jennifer Ellis is fine as Stine’s wife, Gabby, fed up with the author’s double-dealing, and then Bobbi, Stone’s ex-wife who falls far and fast after the marriage breaks up.
There are also the requisite noir characters such as Samantha Richert’s Alaura Kingsley, a platinum blonde femme fatale, Meghan LaFlam as Mallory Kingsley, Alaura’s mysterious, alluring stepdaughter, and Tony Castellanos, who has a nice supporting turn as Lt. Munoz, the detective who bedevils Stone, a former cop.
The show benefits from a strong, witty book by Larry Gelbart, and while the jazz-infused score by Cy Coleman and David Zippel probably won’t have you humming tunes on the way out of the theater, it works very well within the context of the show.
The best numbers are a tete-a-tete between Stine and Stone, “You’re Nothing Without Me,” in which the author and his fictional creation joust about who deserves credit for the success of the character, and “You Can Always Count on Me,” with Barrett as Oolie and Donna bemoaning her devotion to two heels — Stone and the studio mogul Fidler.
Davron S. Monroe has some nice moments as Jimmy Powers, the crooner turned failed actor.
Lyric Stage Artistic Director Spiro Veloudos directs with his usual attention to detail, adroitly ringmastrering a cast of 17 who never run into each other on the crowded stage. The music direction is by the estimable Catherine Stornetta, heading an excellent, energetic ensemble.
There’s deft choreography and musical staging by Rachel Bertone, a rising star in local theatrical circles, spot-on period costumes from Elisabetta Polito, lively projections by Johnathan Carr and effective, well-thought-out set design by Matt Whiton that effectively uses every inch of space in the Clarendon Street theater.
We’ve come to expect big things from Lyric’s annual “spring musical,” and “City of Angels” doesn’t disappoint. It’s theatrical heaven.
The Lyric Stage Company production of “City of Angels.” Book by Larry Gelbart, lyrics by David Zippel and Cy Coleman. Directed by Spiro Veloudos. At the Lyric Stage Company, 140 Clarendon St., Boston, through May 2.