City of Angels, Upstairs at the Landor

Before lyricist David Zippel found Hollywood fame penning songs for Disney s Hercules and Mulan, he d already made a splash on Broadway with the 1989 musical City of Angels.

Collaborating with respected composer Cy Coleman (Sweet Charity, Barnum) and book writer Larry Gelbart (M*A*S*H, Tootsie), Zippel created this tale of a detective writer named Stine, who battles studio and self in an attempt to get his script onto celluloid.

The plot is clearly an homage to every film noir scenario ever written, with Chinatown, Double Indemnity and Sunset Boulevard springing to mind first and foremost. Coleman s score is seductively jazzy, and Zippel s lyrics are as cynically worded as a Raymond Chandler wisecrack.

With around 40 different scenes, and just as many characters, the show was an ambitious enough concept, even for the Broadway stage. So you can only imagine how far they ve had to stretch things to get it to work at a fringe venue like the Landor, which is perched atop a pub in North Clapham.

Probably the best thing you can say about this production is that Russell Wilcox plays the role of a the private dick, Stone, with a reasonable amount of proficiency. His best number is the pleasing duet “You re Nothing Without Me”, a stand-off between himself and creator Stine (Andrew Bain). But elsewhere the performances range from the perfunctory, to the frankly amateurish.

Director Eileen Gourlay has obviously tried her hardest to make do with meagre resources, but there s no getting away from the fact that all we ve really witnessed, is a cracking show, sold short with some poor staging.

Richard Forrest