REVIEW: ELOPE tackles City of Angels

ELOPE City of Angels GigCity EdmontonFor 33 years ELOPE (Ensemble for Lyrical Operetta Productions Edmonton) has been presenting musical entertainments for Edmonton audiences.

They are not a professional or even semi-professional troupe. They come completely out of the community and represent an opportunity for those who might not find it elsewhere to plant their feet on a stage and sing. As you might expect some shows have been better than others – depending on the talent available.

Their latest production is the 1989 Larry Gelbart (book) and Cy Coleman (music) big budget musical City Of Angels, which opened Thursday at the Campus St. Jean Auditorium.

It’s a difficult choice for community theatre. Coleman’s complex jazz-flavoured score is the first mountain to climb. Gelbart’s witty and rapid-fire one-liners requires a cast of well-practiced comic actors and the big Broadway staging, which was an integral part of the cinematic storytelling, and would be a budget breaker for any company. Gelbart, who gave us M*A*S*H and the movie Tootsie was fairly new to the stage, but he sure knew movies and wrote the musical like one – with 23 sets.

I suspect that veteran local director/choreographer Barbara Mah took one look at those demands and did what had to be done. She reduced the sets to a few props and staged it in front of a large orchestra. The show certainly lacks the wham-bam visual impact of the original but it works quite well.

ELOPE City of Angels GigCity Edmonton

Jayson Hlus, left, and Trevor J Worden

It helps that the 17 piece orchestra, under music director Michael Clark, really swings. Coleman used a group of scat singers as part of the orchestra and gave them a difficult, often atonal, score to navigate. Somewhere Clark has found four excellent female singers, calling them the Angel City Four. Veronica Masik, Kathleen Sera, Molly MacKinnon, and Gianna Read contribute a driving, close-harmony support to the band and a jazzy underscore to the corruption that lies just beneath all that L.A. glitter.

For his plot, Gelbart dipped his pen deep into the cynical inkwell of 1940s detective writer Raymond Chandler and recreated the film noir world inhabited by Phillip Marlow. In Gelbart’s words you can almost see the rain slicked streets, the hard-boiled shamus, the gunsels, corrupt cops and the utterly evil dying old man. Coleman lifted his plot mostly from the 1946 movie The Big Sleep. At its withered heart the musical is a bitter satire of the more crass elements of the Hollywood production machine.

There are some other terrific elements that lift the production. The song You Can Always Count on Me is belted by Andrea L. Graham who skillfully plays the “other woman.” The Tennis Song is a comic gem with strong sexual overtones delivered by the imaginary detective Stone (Trevor J) and his sexy prospective bed partner Alaura (Erin Vandermolen-Pater). Monica Roberts (top photo, right) really sells her big song, With Every Breath I Take and Christopher Horobec and his trio of supporting players have a grand old time with All You Have To Do Is Wait.

Act 1 ends strongly with a full-voiced duet, You’re Nothing Without Me between Stone and his writer-creator Stine (Jason Hlus), as they taunt each other that neither would exist without the talents of the other.

It’s really too bad the show didn’t end there on such a high note. The second half of the show lacks the crackling humour and sense of discovery of Act 1. Gelbart’s constant stream of one-liners wears badly, the characters don’t so much develop as exhaust themselves – the stereotypes just aren’t as interesting as they were – and you lose track of who is doing what to whom (much like you did in the movie on which it is based). And it didn’t help on opening night when a gunshot and crack of thunder suddenly appeared in the middle of a scene.

And perhaps the cast were weary because voices that earlier hit the notes bang-on began to suffer intonation problems and high notes turned into shouting matches.

City of Angels is overall a good show and, if one can overlook some problems in production, provides an evening of entertainment.

The show plays through May 14.

Photos by Kara Little