“City of Angels” – Theater Works

This review aired on KBAQ February 22, 2016


Theater Works, Peoria Center for the Performing Arts
Peoria, AZ

Peoria’s Theater Works often tackles challenging shows that haven’t been produced locally.  Two seasons ago, they mounted a triumphant “Ragtime” but last season, they presented a lackluster local premiere staging of Stephen Sondheim’s show business tale “Follies.”  Now the company crafts another hit with “City of Angels,” a jazzy gangster and detective musical with a stellar Cy Coleman score.  It explores Hollywood in the late 1940s and how Film Noir movie’s blurred the period’s harsh realities.  All three productions were directed by Phillip Fazio, a local director who is now based in New York.

To present a successful “City of Angels” production, several ingredients are mandated.  All are present in this production.  First, a sharply defined, quickly paced staging is necessary so the story evolves as a natural explosion.  Next, the multitude of plot locations must swirl in and out as fiction writer Stine begins his novel about a rough and tumble, and lovelorn detective, Stone.  The characters are patterned after famous private eyes Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade.

The action begins when Oolie, a wealthy and gorgeous woman, hires Stine to find her missing stepdaughter.  While reluctant to accept the job, Stone’s acceptance sets in motion a convoluted tale with a parade of characters who present the writer’s story where clever actions transpire.

In addition to Fazio’s zippy and engaging staging, a fine cast of solid singers with witty and exaggerated acting create interesting and engaging characters.  Headed by Ian Christiansen’s stalwart and feet-on-the-ground Stine and Matt Zimmerer’s charming Stone, both actors sing well.  Several excellent supporting players craft nimbly funny yet believably inviting people including madcap Hector Coris’ double take on a rich movie producer who dabbles in shady areas, stylish Sarah Wolter as the mysterious woman, and belter comedienne Alanna Kalbfleisch as the novelist’s secretary both in reality and in his novel.

The ensemble sounds great as they provide commentary on the action.  Glamorous period costumes and clever set pieces create a nice visual look.  A large set piece at the rear of the stage serves as a good location for the wonderfully brassy orchestra conducted nimbly by Steve Hilderbrand.

“City of Angels” is a fast-paced and engaging detective story with an energetic and poised cast of nimble farceurs who fashion a breezy and enjoyable production.  “City of Angels” earns four stars out of five and continues through March 6.  For tickets, call the Theater Works box office at 623-815-7930 or order online at www.theaterworks.org.

Grade: B