REVIEW: City of Angels

WORDS BY DANIEL ERGAS

MUSE’s City of Angels is many things. It is bold, and it is brash. Subtle, however, it is not. At times, its lyrics leave little to the imagination: ‘the Tennis Song’ (yes – that is its actual title) features sensual repartee such as “I'll bet you like to play rough,” quickly followed up with, “I like to work up a sweat”. But that is exactly its charm: while its lyrics do not quite have the wit of the book, the infectious joy with which it is performed by the cast lifts what could be a long, tedious slog into an, at-times confusing, but always delightful, tour-de-force.

Clocking in at just under three hours long (no one could accuse it of not being suitable bang-for-your-buck), this film-noir style production managed to sustain its energy and charm throughout both acts. This is in no small part due to the distressing and aggressive vigour of Aidan Kane’s Buddy – who, it must be said, looks, acts and sounds in almost all regards like a late 90s Paul Giamatti (Big Fat Liar, anyone?), which is one of the highest compliments I can give. Kane steals almost every scene the audience is lucky enough to see him in, and although I was worried he might have an on-stage conniption, his high-octane performance only left me speechless.

 Photo credit: Aparna Balakumar

Photo credit: Aparna Balakumar

Buddy is, however, not the villain of the production, which, given his philandering, almost certainly actionable workplace conduct, limited artistic and editing ability, and generic MRA/Reddit ‘Red Pill’ behaviour, is saying something. For fear of spoiling the big reveal – and, trust me, it is a big, delightfully showstopping reveal – I won’t disclose who that is, but, as their acting is so good (making them perhaps unintentionally sympathetic), you might even side with them nonetheless (I know I did).

However, there were several technical issues; on opening night, a couple of microphones failed to capture the opening lines of various actors, and at times, static and feedback obscured their absurdly talented singing. Additionally, a rogue strobe light interrupted at seemingly random intervals. (Was this on purpose? Perhaps I am unworthy? To be honest, I kind of liked it, it added mystique.)

 Photo credit: Aparna Balakumar

Photo credit: Aparna Balakumar

These minor teething problems, however, were obscured by the rest of the cast (and the creative interjections of the band) who carried the production, and brought to life a difficult script. This is particularly true for Liam Ferguson’s Stine and Curtis Goding’s Stone (their names are similar – get it?) who coordinate and communicate across the two settings featured in the show: Stine, set in real Hollywood in the 1940s, who is forced by Buddy to write an unimaginative screenplay of his hard-boiled detective novel, and Stone, set in fictional Hollywood in the 1940s, who must solve a perilous case as a private investigator. Stine and Stone are played brilliantly; Ferguson manages to make Stine’s character arc flow (a challenge given the script), and manages to charm the socks off the audience even despite his character’s at times deeply questionable decisions. Goding is similarly charming, yet so natural with each line (making what is so contrived seem real). The culmination of their relationship is easily one of the best parts of the show, and Angels is at its best when Ferguson and Goding lead the cast on stage in the boisterous and chaotic revisions forced upon them by Kane’s Buddy.

 Photo credit: Aparna Balakumar

Photo credit: Aparna Balakumar

Another highlight is Michael Martis’ Detective Munoz – his performance in ‘All You Have To Do Is Wait’ is not only uproarious, and an example of Angels’ brilliantly executed choreography (expertly done by Rebecca Wewege), but sung and performed with genuine love and enthusiasm. Also worth an incredibly honourable mention is Sasha Meaney’s Mallory, who’s debut on stage can only be described illustratively:

 Photo credit: Aparna Balakumar

Photo credit: Aparna Balakumar

The Angel City Four (who act collectively as a chorus), comprised of Zara Stanton, Gen De Souza, Doug Emergy, and Jeremy Kindl, were svelte, witty, and (almost) as good as an auditory hallucination. Their versatility astounded me; Buddy’s hairdresser and/or shoe-shiner in one scene, to Jimmy Powers’ long-suffering backup singers in the next. Of course, a mention must also go to the incredible choreography by Rebecca Wewege, which managed to bring each of the characters’ eccentricities to life right before the audience’s eyes.

The band, and the music director Katie Robinson, complements the vivacity of the cast, sustaining the production with vibrancy and very consistent talent. The staging itself, with the contrast on black-and-white film noir paired with technicolour 1940s style, the work of Matthew Hourigan, is a testament to the show’s excellent production, led by the brilliant Aparna Balakumar.

It is strange to write that Angels – a show set almost 70 years ago – is refreshing and exuberant, but it is. Rielly Dickson’s direction has made this complex marathon of a musical not only relevant and accessible but actually fun. In other words (and who could be surprised?) – MUSE has done it again.

Pulp Editors