Nolan, Dowies shine in ‘City of Angels’

If the name change is meant to trumpet its place in the local arts community, Theatre Baton Rouge’s first production does nothing to tarnish that image.

“City of Angels,” a fast-paced and clever musical, is exactly that sort of show that the organization formerly known as Baton Rouge Little Theater has usually done well. It assembles capable voices and actors and, under Keith Dixon’s direction, keeps everything moving crisply in a play that lasts two hours and 45 minutes but doesn’t feel that long.

Carrying the show are Albert Nolan as Stine, a writer who is trying to convert one of his novels into a screenplay, and Jason Dowies as Stone, the fictional private detective who is the star of both the book and the movie.

The play tells the story both of the movie, which is in the film noir style of the 1940s in which it takes place, and of Stine’s real-life struggles with movie mogul Buddy Fidler (played by Terry Byars) and his wife, Gabby (Marion Bienvenu).

Nolan and Dowies are among the few in the cast who do not have the double duty of portraying characters in both the real-life and movie scenes. But they have enough to do in their singular roles, and they do it very well.

Anyone who has attended a BRLT play in recent years probably has seen Nolan, who is equally adept at comedy, drama and vocals. That made him a natural to be Stine, a man struggling with his personal flaws, the compromises being forced on him by Fidler and the frustrations known by every writer who tries to create brilliant words on tight deadlines.

Nolan has the best voice of anyone on stage, and it shines in solos and in duets or trios with Dowies and Bienvenu in “You’re Nothing Without Me,” the climactic song in both acts. So strong is Nolan’s voice, he’s probably the one person that didn’t need amplification, and certainly not as much as he received.

Dowies, too, has the leading-man swagger that fits his role as the tough-talking Los Angeles detective who ignores his better instincts and takes a missing-person case brought to him by Alaura Kinsley (Haley Schroeck, who also plays the “real-life” Carla Haywood).

Byars is perfect as Fidler (and his movie alter ego, Irwin S. Irving), as is Richard Williams as the oh-so-full-of-himself crooner Jimmy Power (who, ironically, received no amplification). Schroeck, Bienvenu, Carole Moore, Annie Dauzant and Zac Thriffley are memorable in their multiple roles.

Except for Nolan and Williams, none of the individual singing voices really grab one’s attention, but there are some excellent duets. They include Bienvenu and Moore in “What You Don’t Know About Women,” and Dowies and Schroeck in “The Tennis Song.”

The wittiness of Larry Gelbart’s script and David Zippel’s lyrics make for an adult play that rewards a quality performance. Theatre Baton Rouge is up to the task.