Fragile magic

QMT aim to capture Hollywood charm in their latest endeavour, City of Angels

Drew Moore (left) rehearses in his role as detective Stone, hired to find the beautiful bad girl, Mallory, played by Shruti Kothari (right).
Drew Moore (left) rehearses in his role as detective Stone, hired to find the beautiful bad girl, Mallory, played by Shruti Kothari (right).
Musical Director Ian Eatock brings to life the score that won City of Angels a slew of Tony Awards including Best Musical and Best Original Score.
Musical Director Ian Eatock brings to life the score that won City of Angels a slew of Tony Awards including Best Musical and Best Original Score.

It’s already a difficult task to bring a hit Broadway musical that has had a successful run and a loyal following back to the stage. But, this isn’t challenging enough for Queen’s Musical Theatre (QMT), whose spring production City of Angels, intertwines two storylines, one in colour and the other in black and white.

“The colour-world plot line is set in the 1940s and it’s the story of a novelist who has been employed by a big hot shot Hollywood producer to transform one of his books into a screenplay,” explained director Jennie Appleby, ArtSci ‘11. “It’s the process of him writing that screenplay … But the film noir is playing out as he writes it. But what is interesting is that his producer tells him to change something, so in the film noir world the film gets rewinded.”

Despite the creative directorial choices that are needed to bring to life a musical that features two distinct stories in two opposing settings, City of Angels was Appleby’s first choice.

“I’ve always had this love of film noir and one day I was exasperated, I was like why isn’t there a film noir musical I could do?” Appleby said. “Then someone piped up from across the room, ‘Why don’t you do City of Angels’ … It’s half in colour and half in black and white, so it’s fascinating for a stage show. It’s a really big challenge for set designers and costume designers creating those two worlds on stage in tandem. That was the appeal for me for this show.”

It’s not surprising that Appleby and producer Jen Pollock, Comm ’11, chose such an ambitious musical, as this is something they have been thinking about since their first year.

“I have been a member of QMT for three years and I was in QMT shows in my first and second years,” said Appleby. “Being in the cast of the show you always sort of think about what you would do if you’re directing. You know how in first year you have a picture of yourself in your fourth year, I imagined myself directing.”

“I‘d always wanted to produce a show since first year,” said Pollock. “Seeing the different roles, what different people contributed … I felt that the producer role was able to bring together my love of musical theatre and my background in commerce.”

Even though the show has a mysterious “who-dunnit” detective plotline, it’s the musical score, which won the 1990 Tony for Best Original Score, that really drives the production.

“You can pick a script that you love, but it’s the music that keeps you loving it for five months, it’s the music that’s inspiring. It keeps you attached to the project,” Appleby said.

One of Appleby’s favourite moments of the play is the duet “You’re Nothing Without Me,” which pits main character and novelist Stein against the main character of his fictional story.

“What’s exciting is that the main character in the film world, his name is Stone and the main writer in the real world is Stein and they talk to each other,” Appleby said. “Stone is a figment of his writing, but Stone will try to boss him around … Stein will have to wrestle and tell his figment who’s boss. It’s a fun show that’s full of illusion that captures that Hollywood charm.”

Appleby and Pollock realized that it would be a spatial and financial challenge to take a Broadway musical that spans two worlds and bring it to the Rotunda theatre on a student theatre company budget.

“The original version was very rooted in representation, which is something in theatre where every scene is an exact replica of reality. But in our version we don’t have that budget … we have taken a slightly more suggestive approach. The design supports this suggestive approach … We know we are in his office because of the desk, the chair, the books instead of 17 pictures on the wall,” Appleby said.

Even though there are many struggles in bringing a beloved play to the stage, Pollock and Appleby claim that the real hardship is leaving the play behind at the end of the day.

“For a lot of drama students we would rather be doing this than school,” said Appleby. “It’s very difficult for us to remember to do school when we have such an exciting project at our finger tips. It’s tough because this is what we want to do with our lives, this is what we are here to learn, sometimes it feels like school is in the way of what we want to do.”

It’s been a five month process putting together this production, with rehearsals running five times a week for the last two months. After all this hard work, Appleby and Pollock said they’re excited about seeing all the elements of the play—lights, costume, set design—and the work of almost 70 people finally come together.

“For me personally, opening night is that sort of night when you let it be born and push it off into the world,” Appleby said with a laugh. “The director sort of has to give it up to the audience and let the cast really play, experience that fragile magic that comes from that mutual awareness of performer and audience, of space and time … it creates this magic that can only happen in live theatre.”

“It’s that exciting anxiety of bringing it forward and seeing it all come together. The result of all this work you have been doing for four months, letting other people into this bubble of the cast,” Pollock said. “Now it’s time to let someone else in and see what has been keeping us excited.”

City of Angels plays at Rotunda Theatre in Theological Hall from April 7-16 at 8 p.m. with an additional show on April 16 at 2 p.m.

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