I have long been a fan of the Film Noir genre – in particular, the classic detective films that my now 86 year old Nan introduced me to when I was little. The mystery, the intrigue and the glamour always grabbed my attention and to this day, my love of this genre is still as important to me as ever! (I even studied Film Noir as part of my English degree when I was at University!)
So when I heard director extraordinaire Josie Rourke was taking on her first musical – the film noir inspired CITY OF ANGELS at the brilliant Donmar Warehouse, with a beyond phenomenal cast and creative team – I knew this was a show I had to see.
The musical comedy with music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by David Zippel, and book by Larry Gelbart, links together two plots, the “real” world of a writer trying to turn his book into a screenplay, and the “fictional” world of the film and the characters that the writer creates, which is made clear to the audience by the contrasting technicolour and black and white projections used throughout.
Knowing very little about the show when I went in, I was very curious to see, in the intimate setting of the Donmar, how what seemed such a large scale musical from what I had been told would fit into such a uniquely small space in performance. However, yet again – the creative team and all at the Donmar were brilliantly successful in making the performance space seem immensely larger than it actually was. Split over two levels, you felt as an audience that you were totally drawn in to both sides of the story, whether it was seeing Stine’s (Hadley Fraser) literary troubles as he tried to please the ego-maniacal Buddy Fiddler (Peter Polycarpou), while also trying to save his marriage to Gabby (Rosalie Craig) or seeing the charismatic Detective Stone (Tam Mutu) and his loyal Girl Friday Oolie (Rebecca Trehearn) dealing with their newest case. Add to this a main stage revolve to allow characters a swift entry and exit – and you have the perfect setting for a sure fire classic.
I don’t want to say too much about the plot as, like all good detective dramas, even the slightest clue could give everything away. What was particularly fascinating though was to see how the characters in Stine’s real world mirrored and were so alike with the characters that we meet in Stone’s fictional world – and this has to be a testament to the actors and actresses who bring them to life, but more about them later.
The score for this show is also just absolutely divine! The vibrant glamour needed for this show oozes from every single note and I defy anyone one not to have the biggest smile on their face for the duration of the performance. Coleman and Zippel’s enchanting array of songs allows the audience to join the characters in the highest of highs, the lowest of lows, to have the biggest of smiles, and to shed the most heartbreaking of tears and that is the sign of an outstanding set of material. For me, personal highlights had to be the Act 1 finale of “You’re Nothing Without Me“, the on point Prologue which introduced all of the characters and the brilliant “You Can Always Count on Me.”
Much has been written about the phenomenal cast of this show – but having seen them live and in person, I can honestly say that not one of those words does justice to how amazing every single one of them is. From the brilliant jazz stylings of the Angel City Four – Sandra Marvin, Jo Sevi, Kadiff Kirwan and Jo Saayeng – to the comedic and thuggish antics of heavies Nick Cavaliere and Adam Fogerty and the fantastically witty Marc Elliot, whose desperation and resulting joy in outwitting Stone is just a wonder to watch – there is no weak link anywhere in this cast.
The lead female members, who double as characters in both the real and film worlds, play an integral part in the plot and every single one of them does so with grace, charm and oodles of glamour. Samantha Barks takes feisty to a new level in the role of runaway Mallory and wannabe star Avril, while Rebecca Trehearn shows that she is one of the most under-rated talents in the whole West End as she brings the house down in her solo numbers and duet with Rosalie Craig and is definitely one of the stand out stars from the entire ensemble. Craig exudes 1940s starlet from the moment she walks on stage and with her Jessica Rabbit-esque red locks, is a perfect fit, on appearance alone,for the dual role of Gabbi and Bobby. However, in her enchanting solo numbers “With Every Breath I Take” and “It Needs Work” and her interactions with on stage (and real life) husband Hadley Fraser and Tam Mutu, Craig once again proves why she is one of the, if not the best musical theatre actress that the UK has produced in years. Katherine Kelly also brings the house down as she takes to the role of Alaura Kingsley perfectly, bringing a cheeky yet evil side to the lead femme fatale/seductress.
However, it is the shows two leading men in Hadley Fraser and Tam Mutu that absolutely steal the show. For me, having seen both men previously in the role of Javert in “Les Miserables” (as well as numerous other productions for Hadley), seeing two performers who I have great respect and admiration for in the same show together was definitely a major selling point of this show. However, nothing could have prepared me for how blown away I would be when these two immense talents came together on the same stage.
As Stine, Hadley Fraser takes to the geekish persona beautifully. He portrays the writers’ hardships and emotional rollercoaster with such vibrance and confidence that you are willing Stine to “man up” and take control of his creation throughout the show. His on stage relationships and chemistry with wife Gabbi (Craig) and Donna (Trehearn) are joyous to watch and his interactions with Buddy Fiddler (Polycarpou) are so quick witted, you are on the edge of your seat waiting to see who will flinch first. Needless to say – his vocals are sheer perfection as he hits every note of every song with precision and power and a whole lot of pizazz! (Is that even a word?) It was so wonderful to see Hadley back in a musical role after his foray into Shakespeare earlier in the year (also at the Donmar, I might add) and I only hope it isn’t too long before we see him in a lead musical role again.
When it comes to Tam Mutu, I had only ever seen him on stage as a certain big hat wearing, truncheon wielding, convict chasing policeman before I arrived at the Donmar – so the prospect of seeing him as a womanising, brandy drinking, smoking private eye was something my brain was struggling to compute. However, I think it took all of about 30 seconds from when the show started for my brain to really get back into gear.
Going from such an iconic role as Javert to something so different, and doing it with such charisma, class and out and out style just shows what a phenomenally talented guy that Tam really is, even more so than I could have ever imagined. He holds the attention of the entire auditorium from start to finish and it is clear to see from the cheeky smile on his face how much he enjoys every second of the show. His interactions with all of the female leads are electric (particularly those with Rosalie Craig), his vocals are as phenomenal as ever, and he fits the persona of the 1940s Private Eye perfectly – I completely second the idea suggested by another reviewer that he needs to have his own cop show! I didn’t think I could be more blown away by this guy’s amazing talent – but I was wrong! And I can’t say how absolutely overjoyed and thrilled I am that he finally gets his chance to shine on Broadway next year, although he will definitely be missed in the West End.
However, when Fraser and Mutu perform together on stage, that is when the utter brilliance and absolute genius occurs. The Act 1 Finale – “You’re Nothing Without Me” – was phenomenal to watch as Stine and Stone battle for control over the other with a stunning use of projections and both performers trying not to break the set (If you’ve seen the show – you’ll know what I mean!) Their voices match perfectly and this number, along with their interactions in the “Hollywood ending” at the finale of Act 2 show what outstanding talents they both are and I only hope and pray this is not the last time we will see them together on the same stage.
I consider myself truly blessed to have seen this production, especially as the run is now completely sold out!
However, there are Barclays Front Row tickets still available every Monday at 10am for performances two weeks later (see http://www.donmarwarehouse.com/whats-on/donmar-warehouse/on-now/2014/city-of-angels?gclid=CKr6-aSh6cICFanItAodojoAkw for more details) and day tickets are also available from the Box Office – I promise you will not regret trying your luck to see such a phenomenal production and one of my highlights of 2014!
(All photos taken from the Donmar Warehouse website)
Signing off for now
Blue Eyed Girl Xxx