City of Angels by the Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School in West Chester, PA
March 19, 2019
Review submitted by Allegra Greenawalt of Harriton High School
There’s nothing quite like the golden era of 1940s Hollywood, with all of its glitz, glamour, and glorious prestige. Complete with overworked screenwriters, arrogant directors, and dramatic ingénues, PALCS’ Center for Performing and Fine Arts brought audiences back into the famed world of film noir with their dazzling production of City of Angels.
First produced on Broadway in 1989, City of Angels takes place in the 1940s and tells the story of Stine, a skilled but frantic writer, as he works to adapt his novel into a Hollywood blockbuster. Throughout the musical, the lives of Stine’s characters intertwine with his own as he struggles to balance his relationship with his wife Gabby along with his work and continuous demands from his producer boss, Buddy.
Cy Coleman and David Zippel’s jazz-infused score immediately presents itself as no small feat for any theater company looking to produce this show, let alone high school students. However, PALCS proved themselves more than capable of overcoming this major challenge, with each of the actors effortlessly delivering their respective musical numbers with the utmost precision and professionalism.
As Stine himself, Xander Dake helped to drive the performance with his strong vocals and natural acting ability. Alongside him was Neil Devlin as the movie character Stone, whose stage presence and incredible vocals radiated throughout the theater. Together, Devlin and Dake created a dynamic duo and stole the show with the Act One finale, “You’re Nothing Without Me.”
Among the supporting cast, Becky Advena (Donna/Oolie), Hannah Cohen (Gabby/Bobbi), and Emma Apple (Carla/Alaura) stood out for their detailed portrayals and entrancing vocals. Perhaps the most memorable performance of the evening belonged to Shane Troxell (Buddy/Irwin) whose dominating presence and incredible comedic timing had the audience in stitches whenever he graced the stage. The Angel City Four quartet (Zoe Bennett, Elizabeth Mercier, Rachel Wilkin, Ever Krikorian) were also memorable, their razor-sharp harmonies never faltering.
Technically, the performance was stunning. Kennedy Gabb’s lighting design was elegant and very appropriate for the film noir theme, casting just the right amount of shadow to make the audience feel as if they were watching a golden age movie rather than a musical.
The saying goes: “You buy a rose, and you’re stuck with the thorn.” PALCS’ production of City of Angels was certainly a rose, but with all of the talent they displayed both onstage and off, there wasn’t a thorn in sight!
Review submitted by Bailey Collington of Interboro High School
“Three million people in LA… easily half of them up to something they don’t want the other half to know,” remarks a brooding and charming private detective, setting the grim and sultry scene for PA Leadership Charter School’s production of City of Angels.
City of Angels, with a book by Larry Gelbart and lyrics by Cy Coleman, is a cult classic in theater communities with its Tony Award win for best musical and homage to film noir style. The plot depicts ‘real’ vs ‘reel,’ as a struggling writer attempts to write a screen adaptation of his work and soon becomes caught up in the struggles of Tinsel-Town, all while the fictional events of his screenplay play out beside him.
PALCS’s production team took on quite the challenge with Gelbart’s City of Angels, and they certainly rose to it – tackling the score with inspired, competent vocals, capturing the gray aesthetic of the film noir genre with compelling lighting, and demonstrating a wealth of maturity and wit with their delivery of every line.
At the forefront of the production was Xander Dake as Stine. Dake embodied the troubled writer within his first few moments in front of the audience and expertly displayed his character growth until his last moments on stage. Operating right beside him as his quick-witted muse was Stone played by Neil Devlin. Stine’s internal tensions boiled over into an intense duet with Stone, “You’re Nothing Without Me,” in which both actors gave a vocally stunning performance that surpassed the expectations of the challenging score. Both Stine and Stone shared a Girl Friday, Donna/Oolie, played by Becky Advena. Advena attentively and humorously captured the self-deprecating number “You Can Always Count on Me,” showing off the character’s wit and depth.
Backing Stine and Stone was a collection of dedicated and talented actors who were committed to the maturity, intellect, and authenticity of the show and worked to maintain the 40s “film noir” aesthetic. Providing a foil to the character of Stine was Buddy/Irwin, played by Shane Troxell. Troxell played the role of the self-assured and gleefully devilish Hollywood hotshot with just the right level of camp.
In the technical department, the students operated just as efficiently as the stage crew and the lighting team worked in tandem to keep the show running smoothly. Kennedy Gabb captivated audiences with her fitting and stylistic lighting design.
PA Leadership Charter School’s production worked fluidly and masterfully with a dedicated cast and crew who navigated the challenge of the show with diligence. With fun, campy numbers to solemn duets, the production charmed audiences, made them laugh, and most importantly made them think.