CITY OF ANGELS at Hillbarn needs better direction.

(l to r) David Martin as Stine, Patti Appel as Alaura Kingsley, and David Sattler as Stone in Hillbarn's production of City of Angels.

CITY OF ANGELS: Musical by Cy Coleman, lyrics by David Zippel, and book by Larry Gelbart.
Director: Brad Friedman. Hillbarn Theatre, 1285 East Hillsdale Blvd., Foster City, CA. 94404. 650-349-6411 or September 1-25, 2011.

CITY OF ANGELS at Hillbarn needs better direction.

For the first production of their 71st season Hillbarn Theatre has mounted the award winning musical City of Angels that requires 35 to 40 scenes, tricky lighting, two concurrent story lines and eight of the nine main characters playing dual roles. With music by the talented Cy Coleman and book by Larry Gelbart, the lead writer for the hit TV series Mash, the professional staging(s) received multiple awards for the creators and the actors. It is an ambitious undertaking and individually there is much to admire in this production but the totality does not project a winner.

Consider a primary story line of a noted author, Stine (David Martin) writing a screen play of his acclaimed mystery novel City of Angels for an egotistical successful movie producer, Buddy (Michael Carey) in the 1940s. While the real-life story plays out in color, the film noir movie comes to life as a parallel mystery consigned to black and white imagery. For clarification there will be reference to the “real-life” as distinguished from the “reel-life” of the movie.

Much of the reel-life dialog is a direct steal from every mystery film in which a private eye, with a faithful secretary, is the main character. In this reincarnation the private eye is named Stone (David Sattler) and his female side-kick, if I may call her that, Avril Raines (Gina DiRado). As Stine writes and rewrites the screen play under the domination of Buddy, on a small typing desk that frequently and obtrusively moves on and off stage, the reel-life movie takes multiple hits that are often laugh inducing and only occasionally hilarious.

The femme fatale Alaura Kingsley (Patti Appel) hires our intrepid movie reel-life hero Stone to find her missing daughter Mallory (Gina DiRado again) and the fun begins with an ever deepening mystery. Meanwhile back in real-life as Buddy dictates rewrites the reel-life characters suffer the consequences, and there are many. Stine has a real-life wife Gabby (Victoria Morgan) who splits for New York and he takes up with Buddy’s secretary Donna (Corrie Borris).

At the beginning prologue and every so often in the evening a doo-bop quartet the Angel City 4(Sing Theory) parade about the stage with fingers snapping performing mundane dance steps (choreographer Jayne Zaban) for no apparent reason unless to emphasize the era of the play and allow scene changes. The first act is graced with some great songs including “What You Don’t Know About Women”, “With Every Breath I Take”, “Everybody Has Got To Be Somewhere” and the rousing finale “You’re Nothing Without Me” sung by Stine and his alter-ego Stone.

Once again all purpose set and lighting designer Don Coluzzi has created an attractive multi-area set, including a revolving unit that works like a charm, and various smaller sets that move seamlessly on and off the stage. The 15 piece unseen orchestra under Greg Sudmeiers direction adds a touch of class to Colman’s music. David Martin does a serviceable job as Stine but often seems too strident making his scene of reconciliation unbelievable. David Sattler, brought in from New York and the only Equity actor, nails the role of Stone. Michael Carey as Buddy Fidler emphasizes the bombastic nature of what we expect from an egotistical producer and carries most of the humor in the script. The women in the cast tend to be indistinct in their dual roles. Victoria Morgan who doubles as the love interest for Stone and Stine and Corrie Borris as Stone’s receptionist and Stine’s mistress are the exceptions.

All in all it is a long two hours and 55 minutes.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of