Review: ‘City of Angels’ at The Catholic University of America

The 1989 musical City of Angels opened last night at Catholic University’s Hartke Theatre, offering its appreciative audience a glimpse into the past through its double filtered lens.

There’s no doubt you’ll remember this well-choreographed show and its spectacle.

The Cast of 'City of Angels.' Photo courtesy of Catholic Univeristy.
The Finale of  ‘City of Angels.’ Photo by Full Frame Photography.

1940’s Hollywood, film noir, Broadway comedy–the popular detective novelist, an ethically flawed yet earnest Stine, has sold his talent to Hollywood producer Buddy Fidler. Played passionately and convincingly by Shiloh Orr, Stine will do anything that Fidler asks of him. The money is that good!

Played with slimy “sweet heartedness” by Liam Marsigliano, Fidler only hires “yes” men who do his bidding to realize his vision. Yes, this world is his.

Stine has created Stone, an ethically righteous ex-cop, played in true noir fashion by Aaron O’Brien Mackisey.

Stone is also hard pressed for cash, so when the glamour and wealthy Alaura (given just the right amount of mystique by Lizzy Andrews) offers him a payday, he accepts despite his suspicions that trouble is just around the corner.

Aaron O'Brien Mackisey (Stone). Photo courtesy of The Catholic University.
Aaron O’Brien Mackisey (Stone). Photo by Full Frame Photography.

In City of Angels these two stories, the “real” Broadway theatre story and the “fictional” Hollywood film story, play out in repertory as Stine and Stone wrestle for control of the narrative.

Stine and Stone’s fierce performance of the duet at the end of Act 1, “You’re Nothing Without Me,” captures through point and counterpoint both men’s vulnerabilities and the world’s unforgiving attitude toward them.

Catholic University’s Benjamin T. Rome School of Music handles this complex tale with class, giving audiences not only a glimpse into a bygone era but great voices, a wonderful jazz score, and an array of entertaining characters.

If some of the jokes are showing their age (and insensitivity), particularly as sexist language and sexual harassment are presently in the forefront of people’s consciousnesses, don’t let that inhibit your enjoyment of these young artists strutting their stuff like the young professionals they truly are.

Other than Orr and Mackisey, playing Stine and Stone, almost all the performers double up, playing a fictional noir character and a real life “Broadway” one.

The whole ensemble did a fabulous job, moving seamlessly between the “real” and the “fictional” without confusion; but yes, there are some standout performances.

First and foremost, there was Camryn Shegogue. She was Stone’s Girl Friday, Oolie, and Fidler’s Girl Friday Donna. Not only does she have a beautiful singing voice but she also brought some authentic anguish to her characters, as both “Girls” find themselves in living unfulfilling lives serving men (Stine and Stone) who take them for granted.

Oolie and Donna’s “You Can Count on Me” left the entire audience feeling her invisibility.

Shegogue also performed a duet with Megan Bunn (in the dual role of Gabby, Stine’s faithful wife, and Bobbi, Stone’s “Love of His Life”). Their “What You Don’t Know About Women” had every person in the auditorium nodding their heads in agreement.

Jonathan Miot in the role of Detective Munoz, Stone’s former partner, also did a great job with “All You Have to Do is Wait.” Munoz’s long standing grudge against Stone came clearly into view as Munoz handcuffed Stone, then jumped on the morgue table straddling the dead body.

Pauline Grossman directed and choreographed City of Angels. From the opening number, the theme of the musical sung by the Angel City Four (Katie Rey Bogdan, Evan LaChance, Mark Pavan, and Anna Phillip-Brown) behind a dynamic dance number that captured that noir vibe, you knew you were in for a treat. The timing of the choreography was impeccable.

Thomas Pedersen was both the Musical Director and the Conductor of the CUA Symphony Orchestra, which never missed a beat as Cy Coleman’s jazz score gave constant life and style to the Book by Larry Gelbart and the Lyrics by David Zippel.

The design team also did a fantastic job, with H. Scott Hengen’s sets moving easily on and off and down and out as the complex plot with multiple locations was as clear and a vivid as a movie’s. Lighting Designer Sarah Tundermann also added some of the best shadows ever.

Eleanor Dicks costumes were stop on and identified the host of characters perfectly and, given the potentially nightmare scenario of more than a dozen actors playing two roles moving on and off and on again with lightning speed and without confusion, that’s no small feat.

My hat goes off to the Wardrobe Crew who must have helped with the quick changes (Gabriel Brown as Wardrobe crew head, with Hailey Ibberson, Alexis Krey, Marilyn Lopes, and Elizabeth Seablom).

One of the toughest jobs went to the Sound Engineer, John Regan, who at times had to balance the complex interplay among orchestral music, spoken dialogue, singing, sounds by designer Kenneth Lautz, and Stone’s recorded Voice Over coming through auditorium speakers. He did a good job as the clarity of differentiation was usually just right.

Shiloh Orr (Stine). Photo courtesy of The Catholic University.
Shiloh Orr (Stine). Photo courtesy of The Catholic University.

The rest of the cast includes Brian McNally as Jimmy Powers (his “Stay with Me” performed with the Angel City Four captured to perfection the artistic debauchery of Hollywood celebrity), Sarah Hurley, Thomas Hellmers, Declan Jeffries, Joe McAlonon, Conor Meehan, Carson Collins, Ashton Schaffer, and Quoc Tran.

The Ensemble includes Paul Roeckell, Kramer Kwalick, Chris Gleason, Benjamin Hergenroder, Emma Cooley, Ellen Abood, Chani Wereley, and Christina Jordan.

And finally, let’s acknowledge the orchestra whose playing not only gave energy to the style but nuance to the evening.

The orchestra includes Nicolas Rao and Cole E. Thomas (violin); Maria Veres (viola); Ruric Ellings (violincello); Paul Scimonelli (bass); Janghyo Yoo (piano); Matthew Brown (keyboard); Scott Van Domelen, Katherine Kellert, and Roger Garza (reed); Matthew Fitzsimmons, Randy Mueller, and Paul Elizalde (trumpet); Bobby Maletta, and Dave Cannon (trombone); and Brandon Schantz (drums).


Running Time: 2 hours and 45 minutes, with one intermission

City of Angels plays through through tomorrow, October 30, 2016 at The Catholic University’s Hartke Theatre – 3801 Harewood Road NE, in Washington, DC. For tickets, purchase them at the box office, or online.

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Robert Michael Oliver
Robert Michael Oliver, Ph.D., considers himself a Creativist. He has been involved in education and the performing arts in the Washington area since the 1980s. He, along with his wife, Elizabeth Bruce, and Jill Navarre, co-founded The Sanctuary Theatre in 1983. Since those fierce days in Columbia Heights, he has earned his doctorate in theater and performance studies from the University of Maryland, raised two wonderful children, and seen more theater over the five years he worked as a reviewer than he saw in the previous 30. He now co-directs the Sanctuary's Performing Knowledge Project. He has his first book of poetry, The Dark Diary: in 27 refracted moments, due for publication by Finishing Line Press later this year.


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