A spotlight searches the big city skyline as a high-powered jazz prelude fills the theater. Then gunshots and sirens. Finally, the tough-guy monotone of a private detective right out of Raymond Chandler is heard.
It's the opening of "City of Angels," the hard-boiled, private eye musical that barreled into Broadway's Virginia Theater on Monday night. It's an ambitious and innovative show from creators Cy Coleman, Larry Gelbart and David Zippel.
That's not to say "City of Angels" is perfect. The evening runs on too long, and the main character needs more definition--and a little more heart.
The place is Los Angeles, the time the late 1940s. A disillusioned Hollywood screenwriter named Stine would rather write mystery novels about a fictional gumshoe named Stone than toil as a hack for an unscrupulous movie producer. But he needs the money.
"City of Angels" brings Stine's fictional detective to life. The audience sees both Stine's real life and the world he is forced to create for the silver screen.
Stine, played with nerdish charm by Gregg Edelman, has a soul mate in Stone. James Naughton gives the show's best performance as the rakish detective. "You're nothing without me," the two men sing together in one of the musical's more persistent melodies.
Like its hero, "City of Angels" takes a chance. From Coleman's scintillating, thematically linked score to Gelbart's ingenious, multilayered story, the show doesn't play safe. And that's more than you can say for most of the musicals in town.
In other reviews:
The New York Times' Frank Rich wondered: "How long has it been since a musical was brought to a halt by riotous jokes?" He praised Gelbart for his "endlessly witty wordplay" and composer Coleman for "a delirious celebration of jazz and pop styles."
The New York Post's Clive Barnes praised the cast as good and said the play had "taste, resonance and imagination." But, "the one thing it doesn't completely do is work. . . . What we have here are a bunch of ideas searching for fulfillment," he wrote.
The Daily News' Howard Kissel said he "didn't have a good time" at the "contrived parody."