“CITY OF ANGELS” real-life and reel-life stories

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Players by the Sea in Jacksonville Beach Florida opened its first show of 2017 with “City of Angels,” a musical which will be on their main stage through February 25th. Call (904) 249-0289 or visit playersbythesea.org for reservations.

“City of Angels,” with book by Larry Gelbert and music by Cy Coleman opened on Broadway in 1989, ran for 879 performances, and received 11 Tony nominations, winning Best Musical, Best Score, and Best Book. London productions also garnered awards. But the only production locally was in 1993 at Theatre Jacksonville.

So why hasn’t it been done more often if it won so many honors? Well, the answer is the staging is challenging, with over forty scenes, and in Players’ production, a cast of over twenty, with several playing dual roles.

ANGELS04.Ashley Yarham in her first major directing position has done a remarkable job, bringing notable pacing and style to the story. The principals have been perfectly cast and all the minor roles are carefully portrayed. But directors can’t, of course, do it all by themselves; having so many seasoned actors in the cast and the full support of the staff at Players by the Sea was doubtless quite helpful.

ANGELS05The plot briefly goes like this: The setting is Hollywood in the 1940s. Two intertwined stories are being told simultaneously: a real-life story of a Hollywood scriptwriter who is working on a detective story, and a fictional story based on the writer’s work. The writer of the film noir is Stine, well played by Mitchell Wohl, who is perched behind his typewriter on the set’s second tier. Down below, Stein’s creation Stone, a jaded down-on-his luck private detective, is portrayed by Alec Hadden with his marvelous singing and speaking voice. (Advisory: Leave the kids at home as the story contains some suggestive situations and language).

Stine’s story is told in Technicolor, Stone’s in black and white, requiring assistance by skilled magicians for the whirlwind of costume changes.

The leader of Stine’s creative team is the bombastic producer Buddy Fidler, marvelously portrayed by David Sacks who is coiled, boastful, and sexy with an edge of sleaze. Mr. Sacks was in the 1993 Theatre Jacksonville production.

Since you can’t have a Hollywood musical of the 1940s without women, Angels is filled with a bevy of beauties and can they sing! St. John’s River State College sophomore Delaney Brown is real-life starlet Avril, who alternately portrays Mallory in the film. Jenna Bourne appears as Carla, Buddy’s wife and also as femme fatale Alaura. Elizabeth Bricknell, who recently was in ABET’s “Merrily We Roll Along,” appears as Donna and Oolie and sings “You can Always Count on Me,” of the best songs in the show. Carol Hardern, who previously appeared at Players in “Aida” and “Memphis,” really gets to display her singing talent in the dual roles of Gabby and Bobbie.

ANGELS01The audience gets to experience some real old-time radio, when Eric Yarham sings as Jimmy Powers, a crooner backed up by the Angel City 4 Quartet (Lauren “Ashley” Jones, Ashley Harper, Shane Oakley, and Iaan Quintanilla).

The funniest song and a crowd favorite was performed by Juan Ocharan, who was first seen as the tough city detective Munoz, but appeared later in Mexican attire as the hilariously entertaining Pancho Vargas.

ANGELS02We enjoyed seeing actors in roles that were very different from previous appearances. For example, Bill White as Luther was confined to an iron lung, Joseph Stearman portrayed a mystic healer, and Jean Lijoi in a black pinstripe suit certainly looked like a dangerous gangster. Rounding out the cast were Matt Tompkins, Summergrace Grable, Lauren Albert, David Medina and John Cadwell.

The band was directed by Anthony Felton (also on Keyboard), with Alexander Hernandez (Woodwinds), Greg Balut (Trumpet), David Ott (Base Guitar), Jordan Earle (Keyboard 2), and Greg Hersey (Drums and Percussion).

Kudos to the Stage Managers Cynthia Riegler and Assistant Stage Manager Kathryne Krueger for keeping everything needed for all 42 scenes moving on and off the stage flawlessly. Costumer Pam Joiner brought the era to life with her costume choices for the cast.

Additional production team members included: Adina Pavlesich (Vocal Director), Stephanie Riner (Choreographer), Amanda Faye (Specialty Artist), Matt Moore (Lighting Design), Eve Harrison (Sound Operator), Eric Yarham and Alec Hadden (Sound Designers).

“City of Angels” is a fast-paced show that cleverly alternates between real-life and reel-life stories, and this is perhaps your once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see this unusual prize-winning musical.

About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.