City of Angels first opened on Broadway in 1989 and went on to win six Tony Awards the following year, including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical and Best Original Score. It also won eight Drama Desk Awards, including Outstanding Musical.
A London season followed in 1994 with more awards, including the Olivier Award for Best New Musical. The recent West End revival of City of Angels won this year’s Best Musical Revival award.
It begs the question: Why has it taken so long for someone to produce this critically acclaimed, award winning musical in Australia? Life Like Company producer and principal cast member, Anton Berezin, agrees it’s a good question, but explains that the early 90’s in Australia was the era of the mega musical: Cats, Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera. Producers were more interested in bringing out the big blockbuster musicals.
Berezin recalls doing a number of one night only concert presentations of other musicals around that time, such as Mack and Mabel, Follies and Kismet, but they were only ever semi-staged. City of Angels is so visually stunning it simply wouldn’t work as a concert version.
“We’ve decided and committed to making this authentic – having the full colour world and the black and white world – because that’s really essential to understand what is happening. You have the life of the writer in the real world and the character has a life of his own, but then the two cross over – and it’s life imitating art and art imitating life. It’s about ‘you are your creation’,” explains Berezin.
Berezin plays Stine, the ‘real world’ writer who creates the character of Stone (played by Kane Alexander). The musical cleverly weaves together two plots of the ‘real world’ and the ‘reel world’ of a fictional film and pays homage to the film noir genre of movies from the 1940s.
Anton Berezin plays Stine and Kane Alexander plays his creation, Stone.
“He’s a really hotter, younger version of me!” Berezin laughed, adding, “If I had to invent a cooler, sexier version of me it would be Kane.”
Berezin says many of the Cy Coleman songs from City of Angels will be familiar to audiences. He recalls auditioning for shows in the early 90s and it was all about the songs from City of Angels. Berezin thinks he probably performed ‘Funny’ at twenty different auditions. City of Angels was the show everyone was talking about.
“We all dreamed of it coming to Australia when we were young, but thank God it didn’t because now I’m the right age to actually be in it! Back then I would have been utterly useless!” said Berezin.
A star-studded cast has been assembled for this Australian professional premiere of City of Angels. Joining Anton Berezin and Kane Alexander on stage will be Amanda Harrison, Chelsea Plumley, Troy Sussman, Rohan Browne and Anne Wood. It also features Connor Crawford, Hannah Fredericksen, Andrew Kroenert, Melissa Langton, Jennifer Peers and Adam Fiorentino as Lieutenant Munoz. City of Angels is directed by Martin Croft with musical direction by Kellie Dickerson.
Alexander first heard the score of City of Angels when his high school music teacher gave him the cast recording on a cassette tape. Alexander was immediately fascinated by this fresh and different sound. Years later he obtained a copy of the script and was impressed by what he describes as “deliciously funny dialogue”.
To prepare for the role, Alexander has been watching old film clips from the era to understand the rhythm and style of the language of this era. He’s also learnt more about some of the references within the script to add to the authenticity of his portrayal. It’s a very different role for Alexander, who is more familiar with playing the romantic leading man. He’s looking forward to playing a much grittier role.
Berezin describes City of Angels as “a film noir, psychological thriller musical comedy!” It’s a musical that any fan of musical theatre will enjoy; a cleverly written and witty script as well, intricate music with tight harmonies performed by some of our country’s best, a visually stunning set and glamorous costumes. Plus, it’s a new show for Australian audiences.
It’s a first class cast in a first class musical and will be performed in what Berezin feels is the best venue in Melbourne: the Playhouse at Melbourne’s Art Centre. The size is right, the sound is good and every seat has a good view.
City of Angels opens on Thursday 5th November at the Playhouse and runs until Sunday 8th November.