Trouble In Tinseltown: Detective Musical At The Donmar

By James FitzGerald Last edited 44 months ago
Trouble In Tinseltown: Detective Musical At The Donmar ★★★☆☆ 3

Tam Mutu as Stone in City of Angels.

Londonist Rating: ★★★☆☆

“Change that brown, black and yellow to red, white and blue!”. Hollywood exec Buddy Fidler (Peter Polycarpou) is hell-bent on “fixing” Stine’s (Hadley Fraser) detective movie screenplay – in this case, obliterating some social commentary about race and skin colour so the script reads more like a much simpler, all-American potboiler.

Unfolding in the moody settings of post-war Los Angeles, this musical is really two stories, with most of the actors doubling up in a clever show of duality. There is the overarching plot about Stine the writer, battling with Fidler over all the “fixes” the Tinseltown bigwig wants to make on his film. And then there’s the story-within-the-story: Stine’s detective tale involving the grizzled private eye Stone (Tam Mutu).

Packed with sex, backstabbing, and pinstriped baddies, the story of Stone is effectively a full-blown film noir crammed onto a stage. That City of Angels is hyper-produced isn’t out of kilter: at times, that classic film genre was just about looks, and expression. Why should Stone whisper as he swaps innuendos with sultry femmes fatales (Katherine Kelly and Samantha Barks), when he can cavort about, singing them?

Both storylines have their giggles, but the wider plot about Stine’s efforts to retain artistic credibility in his moviemaking and lovemaking proves more intriguing than his crime thriller story. Stone and Stine: similar men with similar mysteries to fathom. As the detective character begins to actually exert control over his own author, the pair even trade lines — it’s a nifty device which sustains this lengthy show’s second half.

City of Angels does have one or two of these surprises hidden up its trenchcoat sleeves. With equal measures jazziness and witticism, Cy Coleman and David Zippel’s music and lyrics layer on the pizazz. The Stine plot line ends up concluding that a writer’s artistic vision is always right — that substance should always supersede style. A good message. So why is it, when we’ve seen all these characters in all these smoky set-pieces before, that the opulence of the spectacle still does for us?

City of Angels runs until 7 February 2015 at Donmar Warehouse, 41 Earlham Street, London, WC2H 9LX. Tickets from £8.50. Londonist saw this performance with a complimentary ticket.

Last Updated 19 December 2014