Sunday, December 10, 2006
Enter Private Eye, Stage Right, In The Key of E ...
On a hot evening in mid-December that just happened to be last night, I went to an art gallery that was also a theatre to see a show. Forty-five Downstairs is a small theatre that you get to by going into the building on Forty-Five Little Flinders Street and not going upstairs.
The show was City of Angels, a very cool and clever Detective Mystery slash Musical slash Stage Noir slash Slash slash Comedy slash a couple of other genres as well. (Hell, I even spotted a Swedish maid, the kitchen sink, a jellyfish, the Big Six, and a monkey in there ... just kidding! I think ...)
The writing, by Larry Gelbart, is exceedingly clever, and the plot is brilliantly structured.
The idea goes something like this; the play opens on a cold-boiled sleuth pacing the stage and delivering one liners to his frazzled secretary. Enter, stage left, the customary femme fatale who charms the detective with her feminine guile (that, and the offer of huge amounts of money). After the detective agrees to take a case from her, another corner of the stage lights up and we see a writer, at his typewriter, banging away. I thought at first he was a court stenographer, but no, it turns out that he's actually a film writer; and the detective drama that preceded this scene was all in his head. It's the fiction he's working out for the next film.
It's a pretty naff idea, and could lead to any manner of postmodern nonsense, but somehow, it all hangs together. The Big-Band/Cool jazz score by Cy Coleman and the one-liners Gelbart gives to his characters keep the show moving at a good pace. The music is, on the whole, bloody brilliant; the band and all the singers are fantastic. I thought the voice-over was irritating at first, one of those annoying hangovers you get from theatre directors who see too many films and think you can just lift techniques from film willy-nilly, but it was actually worked in quite cleverly and seamlessly with the live music and dialogue. So if you love jazz, then you'll want to see this play. (And the set design is rather fabbo, too.)
Of course, it's a bit weird to see a film writer with writer's block bursting into song. And even stranger is the Latino police sergeant's Salsa - it doesn't seem entirely in keeping with the laid-back jazz feel of much of the rest of the show. Then again, there's a few moments in the plot that seem to verge on the screwball, so you never know. (Anyway, I'm the sort of person who hums 'Springtime for Hitler' in the Melbourne Trades Hall, so I can't talk.)
So all in all I had a good time. I reckon you will, too. Even if the idea of a little jazz and some showtunes doesn't sound like a smashing time to you, you can just buy some wine at the bar, and get smashed at interval time. Either way is good!
So see it, already!
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