The musical comedy City of Angels picks up on one of Shakespeare's, Broadway's and Hollywood's favorite devices: the play within-a-play (think Hamlet, Man of La Mancha, and almost any Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney movie). In this one, it's a 1940s-style black and white movie within the play.
"It's like doing two shows at the same time," said Charlie Skelton, executive director of Richey Suncoast Theatre, as he and the stage crew worked on sets, lights and sound this week. Finding all the props for the show was double duty, as the musical tells two stories at one time.
In it, novelist Stine (Rob Tilley, Che in Evita, Freddie in Chess) is trying to turn his detective story, City of Angels, into a movie script featuring tough-talking Detective Stone (Nathan Sakovich, Charlie Baker in The Foreigner). Stine is bedeviled by his wife, Gabby (Beth Phillips, Sally in Cabaret), who leaves him because he's messing around with lovely secretary Donna (Patricia Dorsher). Making things worse is Stine's demanding movie producer, Buddy Fidler (Paul Mattes).
In Stine's movie script, Stone is hired by the voluptuous Alaura Kingsley (Star Verosic, Fraulein Kost in Cabaret) to find her wayward daughter Mallory (Molly Laird, Wendy Jo in Footloose). The apparently simple case of a missing girl quickly turns into a murder mystery, with Stone as the star suspect. As Buddy and Stine battle over where the story is going, the movie plot gets as complicated as Stine's real life.
Following the two story lines is also challenging for the audience, in part because everyone except Stine and Stone plays roles in both the play and in the movie. It helps to remember that the "real" life is in color, while the movie is in black and white.
The Cy Coleman/Larry Gelbart hit won six Tonys and ran for more than two years after it opened on Broadway in 1990. It has toured, but perhaps because of its difficulty, it's not often performed in amateur theaters.