City of Angels: BRLT tackles both sides of musical comedy

Play explores thin line separating real and reel

There is a thin line between living color and black and white, and sometimes the line is blurred.

Sometimes.

“There will be times when Stine crosses over to the black and white side of the stage,” Jason Dowies said.

“One side of the stage will be in color, and the other is going to be in black and white,” stage manager Mary Pyfrom said. “We’re making the black and white side monochromatic to achieve that effect.” The color side of the stage will represent real life which the author Stine inhabits. The black and white side will be the movie for which Stine is adapting his novel City of Angels with its main character Stone into a screenplay for mogul Buddy Fidler. The setting is 1940s Hollywood. Fidler demands rewrite after rewrite. Stine struggles to keep both his job and his novel’s integrity.

There may be at least one time when Stone visits Stine. This would make a kind of sense, because Stone is Stine’s creation, and as many writers will testify, there comes a time when the characters take over the story. Still, it’s up to the writer to drive that story, and Stine definitely is the force behind the real and fictional worlds of the Tony Award-winning City of Angels.

Albert Nolan will play Stine in Baton Rouge Little Theater’s production of Cy Coleman’s musical, which opens Friday, March 8. Dowies will play his alter ego Stone.

“That’s really what Stone is, his alter ego,” Nolan said. “Stone is everything Stine isn’t.”

City of Angels is a musical comedy that pays homage to the film noir genre of motion pictures. Coleman wrote the music, David Zippel the lyrics and Larry Gelbart the book.

Now, for LSU fans, it’s important to stop here and mention that Coleman also composed a song, “Hey Look Me Over,” for the 1960 Broadway musical, Wildcat. That song is better known as “Hey Fightin’ Tigers” in Baton Rouge.

“And Larry Gelbart, who wrote the book for the play,was the writer for M*A*S*H,” Keith Dixon said. “So, you know this is a smart show.”

Dixon is Baton Rouge Little Theater’s managing artistic director. He’s been pulling double duty during this production as director of City of Angels and acting in New Venture Theatre’s production of A Raisin in the Sun.

“Kurt Hauschild is helping me on the nights that I’m on stage,” Dixon said.

Which were only three nights, because the New Venture run was short.

“I love being back on stage again,” Dixon said. “And I’m enjoying working with this musical. It’s a spoof on the film noir genre, and it doesn’t get done often.”

City of Angels opened Dec. 11, 1989, in Broadway’s Virginia Theatre. The story weaves together two plots, the “real” world of a writer trying to turn his book into a screenplay, and the “real” world of the fictional film.

Meanwhile, his wife, Gabby, disapproves of his womanizing and takes off to New York on a business trip.

“The fact is that he’s lonely, and he wants to reconcile with Gabby,” Nolan said.

“And she tells him before she leaves that if he has an affair, she’ll know,” Dowies said.

So, Stine works on the screenplay, his alter ego Stone becoming stronger in personality with each keystroke.

“Stine is a typical writer,” Nolan said. “He wants to be a big name, and his wife is a writer, as well. I think Stine is intimidated by her. She’s controlling, and he’s lonely.”

Then there’s Stone.

“He’s underestimated by everyone he meets,” Dowies said. “He’s the most intuitive person in the room. He has a lot of Bogie’s characteristics, and he’s always got an angle. He also has girlfriend issues and ex-partner issues, so he’s a loner.” Now, the names, alone, indicate that Stine and Stone are the same person. Stine is the person in the real world, and Stone is the person he longs to be. Baton Rouge Little Theater is doing something a little different with its production. In the past, a younger actor has always been cast as Stine, while an older actor has played Stine’s screen character Stone.

This may not make sense to some theater fans, because wouldn’t it only make sense that Hollywood thrives on youth? Then again, if Stone is Bogie-esque, an older character in the screenplay makes sense. But Baton Rouge Little Theater’s switch works perfectly, as does the teaming of Nolan and Dowies in these roles. “When we started singing, our voices were a perfect match,” Dowies said. “We are the perfect counterparts.”

Now, don’t take this to mean that Nolan is ancient.

“Jason is about 10 years younger than me,” Nolan said, laughing. “So, I’m the older character.”

There also is one other fact about these characters that needs mentioning. Nolan and Dowies are the only two actors in the story who each play one person. Everyone else plays double characters, which makes sense, because Stine has used the real people in his life as characters in his book and screenplay.

So, they show up in the real world as they really are, and they pop into the reel world as his characters, whose stories become more complicated with each rewrite.

But Stine decides enough is enough with the final rewrite — a rewrite he didn’t pen. Buddy Fidler writes it while Stine is in New York trying to reunite with Gabby.

So, what does Stine do? A lighted marquee versus integrity: the choice is his.

And to learn what he chooses, you’ll just have to make a trip to Baton Rouge Little Theater. “The music is fun and swinging, and the story is smart and sexy,” Dixon said.

Now, it’s important to note that the theater has given this production an “R” rating, so some of its content may not be appropriate for children.

But that doesn’t take away from the fun, and that thin line between real and reel.

Which blurs as color mixes with black and white.

  • CAST: Albert Nolan, Stine; Jason Dowies, Stone; Marion Bienvenu, Gabby/Bobbi; Carol Moore, Donna/Oolie; Terry Byars, Buddy Fidler/Irwin S. Irving; Haley Schroeck, Carla Haywood/Alaura Kingsley; Kevin Brooks, Werner Kriegler/Del Dacosta/Luther Kingsley/Commander Gaines; Michael Hicks, Gerald Pierce/ Peter Kingsley; Holt Kirkindoll, Gerald Pierce-Peter Kingsley; Annie Dauzat, Avril Raines Mallory Kingsley; Davis Hotard, Pancho Vargas/Munoz; John James, Gene/Orderly; Zac Thriffiley, Gilbert/Dr. Mandril; Richard Williams, Jimmy Power; Holt Kirkendoll, Jimmy Power; Antonio Collins, Cinematographer/Mahoney/Orderly; Rebecca Longtemps, Stand-In/Anna; Nick Moore, Studio Cop/Big Six/Harlan Yamato; Lee Kelly, Studio Cop/Sonny/Officer Pasco; Crystal Casaroti, Bootsie/Margaret; Andrew Vessel, Shoeshine/Recording Engineer; Susannah Craig, Hairdresser/Margie; Angel City Four: Jamie Leonard, Erin Woolworth, Tyler Grezaffi. Ben Caldwell; Ensemble: Crystal Casaroti, Antonio Collins, Susannah Craig, Michael Hicks, John James, Lee Kelly, Rebecca Longtemps, Nick Moore, Paula Shreve, Andrew Vessel, Zac Thriffiley.
  • DIRECTOR: Keith Dixon.