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Real life meets ‘reel life’ in Ohio State’s production of ‘City of Angels’

Sean Felder (left) as Stine, Brian Hupp as Stone and Hannah 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.

A tale of two Hollywoods comes to life in an collaborative effort between the Ohio State Department of Theatre and School of Music.

“City of Angels” is an upcoming musical production that blurs the line between reality and fiction. The Tony award-winning jazz musical is an homage to 1940s film noir, according to the Department of Theatre’s website.

The musical made its Broadway debut in 1989 and follows Stine, a writer struggling to adapt a detective novel into a screenplay in present-day Hollywood. His novel, which shares the name of the musical, comes to life and follows the adventures of a private eye, Stone, in 1940s Hollywood.

“What you see is Stine’s process of adapting his novel as a screenplay, and you see the film that the screenplay becomes simultaneously,” said director A. Scott Parry, a lecturer in the School of Music. “So you have a world that is both modern-day Hollywood in color and the black-and-white film noir film version in the 1940s.”

The film noir genre gave life to archetypes that many will recognize, including the hard-boiled detective, femme fatale and the girl Friday, a trusted female assistant or “right-hand woman,” Parry said.

The conflict of the show begins when the film’s director and producer, Buddy Fidler, constantly demands rewrites of Stine’s screenplay to match his own ideas for the film, resulting in Stine risking the integrity of his novel.

“That’s what this is really about,” Parry said. “The story of selling out artistic integrity and the balance between what is art and what is entertainment. That’s a good question that the show has.”

Because of the duel story-lines, Parry said the play starts off distracting and disorienting at first, but as the show progresses, the audience will realize how the two worlds mirror each other.

Just as the events in modern-day and 1940s Hollywood mirror each other, so do the characters. Almost all of the actors portray mirror versions of their characters in both worlds, Parry said. But with 60 named characters being portrayed by a cast of 20, portraying multiple roles was bound to happen.

“Everyone in the black-and-white film also plays modern-day characters in the color world, too,” he said. “So all the cast is bouncing between black-and-white film and the color as well. They’re constantly changing clothes and changing makeup.”

The only character who doesn’t have a mirror is Stine himself. Stine and Detective Stone are portrayed by two different actors because Stone is a fantasized version of Stine, Parry said..

Brian Hupp, graduate student in vocal performance, is set to star as Detective Stone.

“I am the alter ego, the inner conscience of Stine,” he said. “My character is what (Stine) wishes he could be.”

Detective Stone and Stine are separate in each of their worlds, but as Stine starts to compromise his artistic integrity to please the film’s director, Stone becomes aware of and reacts to what Stine is doing, Hupp said.

“I start questioning him to the point of the climax of act one, where we have a duet where I challenge him on why he’s doing the things he’s doing and why he is making these changes to please the Hollywood director,” Hupp said.

Parry said more than 50 scene changes occur throughout the play — the shortest scene lasting only 15 seconds — so the stage is constantly changing and moving. Apart from the 15-minute intermission, there is no slowing down for the show or the actors.

Natalie Cagle, the show’s costume designer and a graduate student in theatre, said more than 90 costumes have been created for the show. Because of the two worlds of the play, the costume team tried to make the costumes usable in both worlds.

“The technical aspect of this show is the hardest part,” she said. “I was advised from my director who was all for simplifying our changes as much as we can. So if we had pieces that would be able to work for both worlds, I was strongly recommended to do that.”

Cagle developed a chart to track where all of the actors would be throughout the show to keep their costumes organized. She said it was important to keep the conversation open and have good communication between her and the actors.

Aside from working with the actors, Cagle said her favorite part about the production was bringing her costume designs to life.

“It’s always nice when a costume comes together,” she said. “You’ve lost the actor and you now have your character standing in front of you, and that is the best part.”

“City of Angels” is the latest collaboration between the School of Music and Department of Theatre. The two departments put on a joint production every other year, Parry said.

“The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” a whodunit musical based on an unfinished Charles Dickens’ novel, was their 2012 collaborative effort.

“City of Angels” is the biggest show ever put on by either of the departments, Parry said.

There are upwards of 50 sound cues — or a sound that initiates an action, like a song about to start — 20 live mics, two live mic mixers, video projections and still projections, Parry said.

Fourteen students from the School of Music make up the production’s jazz band, which will play throughout the show.

Planning for the production began last year when the two departments came together and started brainstorming ideas for what musical they wanted to do next, Parry said. The production team met throughout Spring Semester after “City of Angels” was chosen. Set building began over the summer and auditions for the cast and orchestra were held in August.

“It’s a process that really has spanned about nine months, from the first meetings to performances and about a year in planning since last June when we decided,” Parry said.

Cagle said the production is “beautiful” and has elements that the audience will love, including skin, violence, sexy women, murder and mystery.

“It’s a comedy-tragedy in a weird way,” she said. “And it reflects life. You’ve got the real world and then you’ve got the reel world.”

“City of Angels” has a runtime of two hours, Parry said, and is set to be performed in the Thurber Theatre eight times between Thursday and 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.

Correction: In a prior version of this article, the character of Bobbi in “City of Angels” was identified as Hannah Fidler in the photo caption. In fact, it is Hanna Fidler. 

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