By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Bosley Crowther, grandfather of critical snark, once described the 1946 film noir The Big Sleep as "one of those pictures in which so many cryptic things occur amid so much involved and devious plotting that the mind becomes utterly confused."
Ditto the too-clever-for-its-own-good 1989 musical noir send-up City of Angels, now at Theatre Three. The book is by the late Larry Gelbart, writer of Broadway's A Funny Thing Happened ..., TV's M*A*S*H and the movie Tootsie (but also Blame It on Rio). Music is by the late Cy Coleman, creator of scores for Sweet Charity, Barnum and Little Me. Lyrics are by David Zippel, veteran of Disney movie musicals including Mulan.
Loads of talent there and a dandy premise for a show: Stine, author of crime novels, goes to Hollywood to turn his best character, private eye Stone, into a detective movie hero. The musical follows Stine's work life and love affairs on a parallel track with Stone's. But there is way too much detail about the Chinatown-like mystery the fictional Stone is trying to solve in Stine's movie script. And layered over all of it is Gelbart's heavy commentary about Hollywood studios' mistreatment of writers by pushy studio chiefs who want to share writing credit.
Directed here by Bruce Coleman with no edge to the comedy and a lot of clunky visual traffic, City of Angels is really two shows in one. And as it bounces back and forth between Stine and Stone, the big cast sings 20 numbers in a pastiche of styles, from close-harmony Big Band to jazz and torchy ballads.
About the only thing that works in T3's muddled, three-but-feels-like-four-hour production is the casting of Alexander Ross as Stine and Gregory Lush as Stone. Both are popular musical theater leads on local stages and their voices blend like butter in this show's best song, the upbeat duet "You're Nothing without Me." Lee Jamison, as the canoodling Eve Arden-like secretary/lover to both Stine and Stone, nails the brassy "You Can Always Count on Me." Great lyric: "I've been the other woman since my puberty began/I crashed the junior prom/And met the only married man."
Most everything else, including set and costumes by Coleman, is a mess. Too much shoving of furniture on and off happens during numbers (a bad habit in every T3 show). Actor Jackie L. Kemp, playing two roles, blows the comic payoffs by emphasizing the wrong word in nearly every line. By the third hour, the instruments in Terry Dobson's anemic four-piece band have started to sag out of tune. Such things bedevil the fun out of City of Angels.