With the pressures of time, money and resources, it’s easy for student performing arts societies to stick to ‘safe’ shows. This is particularly true of musical theatre, where costs can be high, audiences can be scarce, and finding a cast that can tick all of a show’s dramatic, musical, and choreographic requirements can be a drama in itself.
From the very first chord of City of Angels, it’s clear that MUSE has no intention of falling into this trap. In fact, with a rich and complex score fleshed out by an equally complex dual narrative, this show is almost as far from ‘safe’ as it is possible to be.
Not to be confused with the film of the same name, City of Angels is a film noir pastiche that follows the mirrored lives of a writer named Stine (Liam Ferguson) and the main character of his screenplay, a private eye called Stone (Curtis Goding).
Director Rielly Dickson negotiates the intertwining stories effortlessly, pacing the action well and finding an excellent balance between humour and more serious undertones. Delineating each narrative with colour (or lack thereof), Dickson’s dynamic visual landscape dovetails perfectly with Cy Coleman’s equally dynamic score, gloriously brought to life by the skillful hand of music director Katie Robinson and an impressive assembly of musicians. Rebecca Wewege’s quirky and period-inspired choreography works in perfect harmony with these elements, thanks in no small part to the deft execution of the cast.
It is, of course, this cast that truly breathe life into City of Angels. Besides the remarkable talent of leading men Ferguson and Goding, who deliver both vocally and dramatically in the show’s most demanding roles, Aidan Kane’s utterly hysterical portrayal of egomaniacal producers Buddy and Irwin S. Irving guarantees his position as audience favourite from the moment he is rolled into his first scene.
Nevertheless, Michael Martis steals the middle of the show with a beautifully nuanced and highly entertaining portrayal of Detective Munoz, while Charlotte Snedden, Phoebe Clark, and Sasha Meaney bring the house crashing down at regular intervals with powerhouse vocals and boundless charisma. The Angel City 4 (Doug Emery, Jeremy Kindl, Zara Stanton and Genevieve de Souza) are equally outstanding, with their near-flawless execution of the most technically difficult vocal elements.
City of Angels is difficult and relatively unknown, making it a hugely risky choice from both an artistic and financial perspective. It is genuinely thrilling to see a student society with the guts to embrace such a challenge. Appropriately, the show grapples with the struggle between artistic integrity and commercial popularity, and ultimately — paradoxically? — this production proves you can have both, plus a good old-fashioned kick line. It demonstrates that students are more than capable of throwing some serious creative (and, in this case, also literal) punches.
If you missed City of Angels, remember that student theatre like this is only made possible by audiences who are as willing to take risks on less conventional shows as the students themselves. Look up a show, any show, and buy a ticket to help support this phenomenal community of emerging artists. As this cast would say, the ball is in your court…