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Theater review: Lights, camera, Buddy — charismatic actor redeems musical’s foibles

Sean Felder (left) as Stine, Brian Hupp as Stone and Hanna Fidler as Bobbi all star in ‘City of Angels,’ set to open Thursday, Oct. 30 in the Thurber Theatre. Credit: Courtesy of OSU.

Sean Felder (left) as Stine, Brian Hupp as Stone and Hanna Fidler as Bobbi all star in ‘City of Angels,’ set to open Thursday, Oct. 30 in the Thurber Theatre.
Credit: Courtesy of OSU.

“City of Angels” is a grand affair that pulls out all the stops to make us feel as if we are on a Hollywood set while immersing us in the world of the movie.

The play is a collaboration between the School of Music and the Department of Theatre, that features a writer in Hollywood struggling to adapt his novel about a 1940s detective into a screenplay.

I was rather impressed with all of the elements used to make the viewer feel as if they are watching a movie.

Before a single character arrived on stage, opening credits was played, introducing the show like you would find at any movie theater. It was given a more artistic flair than most opening credits and the visuals were pleasing to look at.

Once the curtains lifted, we immediately met Detective Stone and Oolie, his secretary, in his office.

Portrayed by graduate student Brian Hupp, Stone brought an atmosphere of cool, calm and collection whenever he appeared. His wit is undeniable, though many of his jokes might go over the head if you are not giving your full attention.

We follow Stone as he is hired to locate a missing person for Alaura Kingsley, who makes for your standard femme fatale — a gorgeous, rich and married woman who doesn’t find fault in flirting with the detective to whom she filed a missing person’s report.

And just as you are starting to get sucked into Stone’s world, something odd on stage happens — a sense of déjà vu falls over you. You won’t understand until Stine appears, typing away at his laptop. Modern-day Hollywood colors light up the stage (literally) as we find Stine re-working a scene in his screenplay for his upcoming movie adaptation of his novel, “City of Angels.”

Portrayed by Sean Felder, Stine is a present-day writer struggling to see his art come to fruition on the big screen. We are introduced to his wife Gabby, portrayed by Hanna Fidler, who seems to be his only voice of reason when it comes to protecting his artistic integrity and not selling himself out for Hollywood.

What follows is a back-and-forth between both worlds as Stine has a back-and-forth within himself about whether or not he is willing to sacrifice Detective Stone and his novel for the demands of Hollywood director, Buddy Fidler.

Fidler, portrayed by Jesse Massaro, stole the show for me. As soon as he appeared on stage, he demanded your attention. His stage presence was undeniable, terrific comedic timing made all of his jokes hit the mark and his dynamic charisma is what made him lovable, even though he is the “villain” in the show.

Conflict arose whenever Fidler wanted to “fix” Stine’s screenplay. Stine either had to succumb to Fidler’s wishes or risk never working in Hollywood again. The question the show asks the audience is which movie will be made: Stine’s novel or Fidler’s vision?

The cast and crew did a wonderful job in distinguishing the two worlds from each other. Apart from lighting, the characters’ costumes and the well-built set pieces also aided in submerging the audience into each world. I will forewarn that if you are sensitive to light, there is a scene halfway through the first act in which the stage flashes in black and white. It was rather unpleasant and could be off-setting for the audience.

Music played throughout the show from the 14-piece jazz orchestra, giving life to both worlds. On stage, Jimmy Powers, portrayed by Joshua Cook, and Angel City Four— featuring Lucy Stearns, Kayleigh Chevrier, Dane Morey and Andrew Hall— filled the room with ballads, scatting and upbeat pieces that blended well with the orchestra.

For the most part, the movie world is devoid of color to reflect the film noir genre and 1940s Hollywood.

A patch of color showed up during a confrontation between Detective Stone and Officer Pasco, portrayed by Andrew Hall, in which a “fiesta” of sorts broke out.

The minority characters in the show ended up diminishing some of my excitement. It is possible that the show is only reflecting the attitudes concerning minorities during the 1940s, but I inwardly cringed while watching Pasco and Coroner Harlan Yamato, portrayed by Michael Carozza, whom I believe was meant to be a character of Asian descent.

My opinions of the female characters did not fare so well, either. Alaura Kingsley was too clichéd in which she did everything you would expect from a femme fatale. Her most interesting scene was a duet with Detective Stone about tennis that wasn’t actually about tennis. Sexual innuendos abounded between the two, and their banter kept things entertaining.

Oolie and Donna— both girl Fridays and portrayed by Logan Rathmann— sang about the woes of falling for men (Stone and Stine, respectively) who would not love them back.

The female character that seemed the most likable was Gabby, portrayed by Hanna Fidler, who only wanted her husband Stine to be the best man and writer he could be, but even she fell into the nagging wife trope at times.

The show’s lack of dynamic female characters in comparison to its male characters was a disappointing discovery, but it is a reflection of how women are often portrayed in fiction and the media.

Despite its faults, the story is a spectacle worth beholding as you travel through Stine’s screenplay and find out if his artistic integrity is sacrificed for commercial success.

And if that isn’t enough, go for Buddy. Buddy makes everything better.

“City of Angels” has a runtime of two hours and is set to be performed in the Thurber Theatre through Nov. 9. Showtimes are typically at 7:30 p.m., with Sunday performances at 3 p.m.

Ticket information is available at theatre.osu.edu.

 

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