By Barry Reszel
Major League Baseball fans have Tuesday, July 14, circled on their calendars. It’s the date this year’s midsummer classic, baseball’s All-Star Game, is played at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.
Chicagoland musical theatre aficionados, baseball fans or not, should know their all-stars are doing eight shows a week through Aug. 2 in the musically hysterical, noir-inspired City of Angels at Marriott Lincolnshire Theatre.
This seldom-produced 1989 musical features a combination sultry jazz and big band score (wonderfully led by Ryan T. Nelson) with a script featuring enough double entendres to induce posthumous eye rolling from Leslie Nielsen.
Director Nick Bowling expertly guides the book by Larry Gelbard (Tootsie, M*A*S*H). According to the director, Angels is essentially a stage screenplay with 25 different locations in 40 scenes combining two worlds, a real Hollywood movie production (in living color) and the reel characterizations from the writer’s mind and story being filmed (in black and white). Read a full plot summary (watch out for spoilers) here.
Cy Coleman‘s (Sweet Charity, On the 20th Century) score combined with David Zippel‘s clever, cunning lyrics move the real story of the writer and production company, along with the reel murder mystery. Characterizations are spot-on and the tight comedy clips along at breakneck speed (as it must). Nancy Missimi‘s costuming is elegant and essential to audience understanding, and Thomas M. Ryan‘s generally minimalist set design is perfectly unobtrusive.
All that said, this production is really about the assembly of talent Bowling has at his disposal. When star-in-her-own-right Dara Cameron is best remembered for pushing the hospital bed prop uphill between house seating sections two and three and last year’s Jesus (Brian Bohr in Marriott’s Godspell) is but a bit player in the reel melodrama, what does that say about the rest of the cast?
Rod Thomas and Kevin Earley command the stage as the real and reel leading men, Stine and Stone, respectively. Their rendition of the show’s best-known number, “You’re Nothing Without Me,” brings the house down to close Act 1. In short, the duo is casting magic.
Lovely Jeff winner Summer Naomi Smart is spot-on as the femme fatale trophy wife. Gene Weygandt, a welcome Marriott staple this year (La Cage aux Folles and Anything Goes), is hysterical in both scripts as producer/director in the reel and publisher in the real. Erin McGrath is captivatingly gorgeous as the spoiled reel daughter.
Also pulling double-duty are vocal powerhouses Meghan Murphy and Danni Smith. Their duet, “What You Don’t Know About Women,” Smith’s solos “With Every Breath You Take” and “It Needs Work” and Murphy’s “You Can Always Count on Me” are the production’s true showstoppers.
And then there’s the “Angel City 4” quartet whose doo-wopping demands a separate cover charge. Elizabeth Lanza, Patrick Lane, Michael Mahler and Cassie Slater could indeed beef the repertoire and take this act on the road. And when joined by sometime lead singer Devin DeSantis (Chicagoland’s favorite leading man at Marriott, Paramount and Drury Lane over the past two years or so), it’s as if Paul McCartney surprisingly jumps in to riff with a favorite band in concert at an intimate venue.
These are simply the highlights of this über-talented 25-member cast. What fun it has to be for them all to show up for work each day, knowing they have been selected to play on this year’s all-star team.
Chicagoland musical theatre patrons, this is the midsummer classic, so buy a ticket and play ball!
“City of Angels” runs through Aug. 2 at the Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Dr, Lincolnshire, with performances Wednesdays at 1 pm and 8 pm, Thursdays and Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 4:30 pm and 8 pm and Sundays at 1 pm and 5 pm. Ticket prices range from $50 to $55, with discounts available for seniors and students. Dinner-theatre packages are also available. Parking is free. Information and tickets are available online here or by phone at 847-634-0200.