CITY OF ANGELS is the rarest of musical comedies; one that is not only loaded with music and written in the contemporary jazz idiom, but also filled with sidesplitting comedy. Set in the glamorous, seductive Hollywood of the 40's, the world of film studios and flimsy negligees, the show chronicles the misadventures of Stine, a young novelist, attempting a screenplay for movie producer/director, Buddy Fidler.
While Fidler professes to be a fan of Stine’s work: “I’ve read a synopsis of every book you’ve ever written,” he assures the author, his gargantuan ego forces Stine to make endless compromises in the script he’s writing. The script is an adaptation of one of Stine’s novels which features his Raymond Chandleresque hero, a private investigator named Stone.
Every movie scene that Stine writes is acted out onstage by a group of characters whose costumes are limited to various shades of black and white. The same is true of the sets in which they appear and the props that they use. With music scored in the genre, we are, in fact, treated to a live version of a 1940's private eye film. It is a tale of decadence and homicide with a liberal sprinkling of femmes fatale.
The story begins when Stone’s Girl Friday ushers a striking socialite, Alaura Kingsley, into Stone’s office. The alluring Alaura (“Only the floor kept her legs from going on forever,” Stone informs us) is there to hire Stone to track down the mysterious disappearance of her step- daughter, Mallory Kingsley. Mallory is a beautiful, “bad” young woman, who will later turn up in her birthday suit in Stone’s own bed. Stone’s deadpan reaction on seeing her there? “For a missing girl, there was not a whole lot missing.”
But it’s not all fun and games for the private eye. In the course of the “movie,” Stone receives a brutal beating from two vicious hoodlums hired to get him off the Kingsley case, and is also framed for a murder that could land him in the gas chamber.
All of this goes on in the black and white “reel” life of CITY OF ANGELS. At the same time, in the “real” life scenes, all played out in glorious technicolor, Stine has his hands full as well. He must fight off the increasingly demanding Buddy Fidler, and is left to do this alone after his wife Gabby returns to New York because she disapproves of Stine’s tactics. To make matters worse, Stine is then confronted by his alter ego, Stone, who is totally disgusted by Stine’s willingness to sacrifice his principles. Finally stepping over the line that separates fantasy from reality, Stone challenges his creator, Stine. The confrontation results in the rousing duet -You’re Nothing Without Me, which closes the first act.
In “reel” life the second act finds Stone more and more ensnared by the treacherous web spun by Alaura. In “real” life Stine has to negotiate his way through the creative landmine laid down by Buddy Fidler, while somehow earning back his wife’s respect, the fictional Stone’s acceptance as well as his own self respect.
After singing the ironic, soul searching -Funny, Stine appears on the studio sound stage for the first day of the filming of his script. It is here that, with the surprise appearance of Stone at his side to encourage him, and visible, of course, only to Stine, that the author finds the gumption to stand up to Buddy and reclaim his self respect.
Acquitting himself nobly, Stine is reunited with and once more in the good graces of his wife and with his alter ego, Stone. Together, with the entire company joining in, they perform a robust musical reprise of You’re Nothing Without Me, a switch in the lyrics turning it into the far more positive I’m Nothing Without You. The result is that best of all Hollywood conventions; a happy ending.