City of Angels musical returns to London

By Lorna Blount
Arts reporter, BBC News

image copyrightJohan Perrson
image captionHadley Fraser plays writer Stine who is trying to adapt a novel for the screen

Two decades after its London premiere, City of Angels has returned to the stage at London's Donmar Warehouse.

The film noir-inspired musical was created by Cy Coleman, Larry Gelbart and lyricist David Zippel.

Director Josie Rourke told the BBC it took on modern issues about self-identity and integrity.

"In the universe of the Sony hack, we are left questioning how deeply we believe in what we do and how honest we are with ourselves," she said.

Rourke said she was obsessed with femmes fatales and film noirs as a child, which made the 1940s-set City of Angels the perfect choice for her first musical.

"There's that wonderful thing when women came bouncing out of the post-war period with huge confidence, awareness of their sexuality and knew absolutely who they were.

"It's a great celebration of all the movies I love - His Girl Friday, Double Indemnity, The Lady From Shanghai - those classic noirs are in there."

image copyrightJohan Perrson
image captionKatherine Kelly takes on the role of femme fatale Alaura Kingsley in her first musical

City of Angels, which opened on Tuesday night, is the story of novelist Stine (Hadley Fraser) who has come to Hollywood to write a screenplay, lured by money and seeing his name on the silver screen.

Meanwhile, Stine's fictional alter-ego Detective Stone (Tam Mutu) and his sidekick, Oolie (Rebecca Trehearn), are hired to track down a beautiful femme fatale.

Aside from the parts of Stone and Stine, everyone in the cast plays dual roles that comment on and reflect each other.

This musical comedy, which premiered in 1989 on Broadway, first came to London's West End in March 1993 for eight months, winning an Olivier Award in 1994.

image copyrightJohan Perrson
image captionRosalie Craig said the role of strong women in the show was one of the main attractions

Former Coronation Street actress Katherine Kelly said femme fatale Alaura Kingsley was one of the "most fun roles" of her career.

"I have played evil characters in the past but they all had a redeeming features, whereas Alaura has none, apart from the fact she is quite funny," added the actress, also known for her role of Lady Mae Loxley in ITV's Mr Selfridge.

image copyrightJohan Perrson
image captionCity of Angels sees the characters Stone (l) and Stine (r) struggle with self-identity

Samantha Barks, who made her film debut as Eponine in Les Miserables, takes on the dual role of missing girl Mallory Kingsley and Hollywood actress Avril Raines.

Rosalie Craig, who is married to Hadley Fraser (Stine) in real life, plays Stine's wife Gabby, and also Stone's lost love, elusive chanteuse Bobbi.

The actress, who was Olivier-nominated for The Light Princess at the National, said the whole cast "read a lot of books and watched lots of 1940s film noirs".

She added that the prominence of strong women in the musical was what attracted her to the role. "One of the best parts of the this show is that you can play women and show the strength of women, that's never something to shy away from."

image copyrightJohan Perrson
image captionCity of Angels has been well-received by theatre critics

'Bulls-eye winner'

Writing in The Daily Mail, Quentin Letts said there was "plenty to delight eye and ear" in Josie Rourke's production.

He added that "the band is top-notch" and that Samantha Barks was "almost implausibly well built as a blonde temptress" in both storylines.

"Josie Rourke scores a bulls-eye winner with her first foray into the genre," wrote Mark Shenton for the London Theatre Guide. "Each of these actors vividly encapsulates the sense of period and polish required, and their voices are tremendous."

Henry Hitchings, writing in The Standard, said the musical comedy was "clever" and "gloriously stylish". He added that despite the score sometimes straying "towards frantic pastiche", overall it was a "smart, seductive and often very funny show".

"Sure, it's a show for people in love with the process of fiction, with the business of show," said Times reviewer Dominic Maxwell. "By the end, though, this brilliant cast of 18 ensure that that's all of us. Bravo."

City of Angels is at the Donmar Warehouse, London, until 7 February 2015.

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