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Film noir and a jazzy sexy musical make for a handsome CITY OF ANGELS now up at San Francisco Playhouse through September 17th. Artistic Director Bill English concludes the SFPH thirteenth Mainstage successful season with this award winning crime noir musical. There are many plays and musicals that take a satirical ax to the high egos and self-important pretenses of Hollywood. Yet there are few that begin with the style of film noir and craft them as fresh, and creative as English's creative team has accomplished with this skillful production. It has been twenty-five years since this was last staged, and the San Francisco Playhouse is the perfect company to restage the revival.

'CITY OF ANGELS’ opened in 1989 and was a Broadway hit with a score by Cy Coleman, lyrics by David Zippel and a keen book by Larry Gelbart (M*A*S*H and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum), it is like seeing an old Bogie film. It won six Tonys including Best Musical and Best Book of a Musical. Director Bill English brings together a first rate cast of 13 players, and a production team that includes his very clever set design that takes us into the film. It's a very convincing black box design that features the stunning projections of Theodore J.H. Hulsker that create a 1940’s tinsel town.The story moves with brisk energy under English’s very fluid direction, aided and highlighted by Melissa Torchia’s spot-on, period appropriate costumes. She created a brilliant black and white look for the film within a play segments. The voices in this company are as stunning as you can get in musical theater, supported by a small but mighty backstage orchestra under Dave Dobrusky’s musical direction.

In this “movie-within-a-musical” or “reel” and “real” worlds the story is revealed at the top of the show in a scene involving a writer Stine, played by local favorite Jeffrey Brian Adams, and the man he created at his typewriter private detective Stone played by the handsome, dapper Brandon Dahlquist. Both Adams and Dahlquist are thrilling in their dueling roles, highlighted by their show stopping number “You’re Nothing Without Me”. When lights come up on Stine typing away at a typewriter English’s set provides a dual-level playing space with events on the upper deck spilling into and affecting the goings on down below.

We see that the detective is a fictional creation within a work-in-progress. Stine is still writing his screenplay based on his best selling novel, and studio head Buddy Fiddler, played by the entertaining Ryan Drummond, is pulling the strings on the project, he sings “The Buddy System” and has an infectious voice and a eye catching stage presents. Stine realizes Hollywood is slap to his writing talent as he learns to compromise with the studio brass.

Adams and Dahlquist are both fully realised as the conflict with the fiction story is entertaining and predictable. There are some clever moments when the actors in Stine’s story rewind themselves as he rewrites the scene and the film with in the musical is very intriguing. In the real world, Stine’s wife, Gabby, played by the wonderful Caitlan Taylor, is disillusioned with Hollywood disrespecting her husband’s writing. She returns to New York; without her the loneliness causes Stine to stray into the arms of Buddy’s secretary, Donna, played by the sassy Monique Haften. In her dual role as Donna and Stone’s trusty girl Friday, Oolie, Haften is a gem as is Taylor who also plays Bobbi – the love that broke Stone’s heart in another life. Hafen is featured in “You Can Always Count on Me.” and Taylor handles “With Every Breath I Take” with pitch perfect beauty.

The on going film and screenplay features the sexy Mrs. Alaura Kingsley, played by the very funny Nanci Zoppi, who as Buddy’s wife will also play the role of Alaura in the movie. Stone is no cliché or cartoon. Dahlquist has the gravitas to breathe life and depth into this iconic character. He has a beautiful baritone and his voiceovers, a staple of film noir detectives, are right on the money. Larry Gelbart’s dialogue and Zippel’s lyrics are witty, paying homage to the humor and racy, double entendres that made these black and white pictures so memorable in an age of strict codes and Mccarthyism.

The drama and hi-jinks are also moved along with a chorus a quartet of singers, known as the Angel City Four; Ken Brill, William Giammona, Taylor and Hafen, who scat and tackle Coleman’s perfect jazz harmonies as well as performing their smaller roles. The Hispanic police detective, Lt. Munoz who has it in for Stone is is played by Rudy Guerrero who has a delightful turn in “All Ya Have To Do Is Wait,” with his couple of officers and the coroner. As the long lost step-daughter, Mallory, played by the sharp Samantha Rose steams it up as a sexy femme fatale and John Paul Gonzales has fun with his role as crooner, Jimmy Powers. Rose is excellent and has a soaring voice in “Lost and Found”, and as Avril and Margie she shows her comic talents.

Hulsker’s illustrative projections are full of depth and old Hollywood. Add in musical director Dobrusky’s punchy, eleven-piece orchestra that manages to simulate the swing of Big Band jazz of Coleman's score and it’s a pleasant part of the two and half hour musical. ANGELS is not a huge dance show but choreographer Morgan Dayley gave the Angel City 4 smooth stage presence, along with Jacquelyn Scott’s important props including the iconic Underwood typewriter and the classic phones on Buddy's desk. Lighting designer, Michael Oesch, has double duty to create both a noir look with the black and white feel, then tint the stage for the present day Hollywood story. Oesch adds the perfect texture to the SFPH stage and the sold out mid week audience was impressed. Tabbitha McBride’s wigs and makeup are all authentic and not too campy, and Hulsker, also sound designer sometimes misses those fight sounds riff raff you would hear in an old 40’s film, but the wind and rain storms are perfect.

Bill English and his team end their excellent 13th season with this classy musical, and he made sure when his actors take over his stage, it was in authentic film noir perfection. This brilliant comic homage to the film noir movie classics of the 1940s and Hollywood’s legendary treatment of writers is rarely produced. The rich, jazzy score is packed with showstoppers, this CITY OF ANGELS is a must see and only proves that the San Francisco Playhouse continues to impress Bay Area audiences. Their new season has been announced and you can get more details below. Join this Hollywood treat and add it to your summer musical list.

San Francisco Playhouse Presents


Music by Cy Coleman

Lyrics by David Zippel

Book by Larry Gelbart

Directed by Bill English, Music Direction by David Dobrusky

and Choreography by Morgan Dayley.

San Francisco Playhouse

Through September 17, 2016

The San Francisco Playhouse,

450 Post Street, San Francisco

2nd Floor of the Kensington Park Hotel.

Tickets 415-677-9596, or

Photos by Jessica Palopoli - Video by SF Playhouse

CAST: Jeffrey Brian Adams, Ken Brill, Samantha Rose; Brandon Dahlquist, Ryan Drummond, Nicole Frydman, William Giammona, John Paul Gonzalez, Rudy Guerrero, Monique Hafen, Caitlan Taylor and Nanci Zoppi.

CREATIVE TEAM: Director, Bill English; Dance Choreographer, Morgan Dayley; Music Director, Dave Dobrusky; Scenic Designer, Bill English; Casting Director, Lauren English; Props Artisan, Asst. Scenic Designer, Jacquelyn Scott; Lighting Designer, Michael Oesch; Sound Designer, Theodore J.H. Hulsker; Costume Designer, Melissa Torchia; Wig & Make-Up Designer, Tabbitha McBride; Projections Designer, Theodore J.H. Hulsker; Fight Choreographer, Mike ‘Miguel’ Martinez; Stage Manager, Tatjana Genser; Orchestral Reduction, Mary Chun.

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