Broadway Caliber “City of Angels” Production Is Likely SF Playhouse’s Best Work

by Kevin M. Thomas


Photo: Jessica Palopoli

Photo: Jessica Palopoli

The San Francisco Playhouse has done the amazing. Like their current production, “City of Angels” the musical, they take us back to a time of days gone by.

While “Angels” takes us back to the 1940s, the Playhouse transports us back to the early 1990s as this production is as good as the original Broadway version.

“City of Angels” opened on Broadway in 1989 and won a handful of Tony Awards including Best Musical.

I had seen a version of this show over the years and liked it. But my impression has been greatly enhanced by this flawless, miraculuous restaging by the SF Playhouse. I feel as if I am watching the Tony Award winning production and can see in this version why the show won so many awards.

“City of Angels” is the perfect musical for people who like film noir as it tells the story of a writer who is creating a whodunit right before the audience’s eyes. There are acted scenes that cause the actors to move in reverse as the writer decides he didn’t like the dialog so he re-writes it. One of these extended scenes in reverse is a big moment in the show and surpasses even some of the show’s

Photo: Jessica Palopoli

Photo: Jessica Palopoli

show stopping numbers, from songs written by Cy Coleman and David Zippel.

Coleman’s music is very befitting the era as he seems to have become a master at period pieces,  having composed “On the Twentieth Century” and “The Will Rogers Follies,” and winning Tonys for those productions. Even though Zippel was a newbie when he wrote “Angels,” his snappy lyrics complement Coleman’s music well.

The lyrics also are well married to Larry Gelbart’s book, who also is a Tony winner as well as winner of several Emmys for the TV series “M*A*S*H” and Oscar nomination for writing “Tootsie.” All this just proves he’s a comedic genius.

Director Bill English stages “City of Angels” so well that there are moments we wonder how did he do that. He put together a two-tier stage, making it easy for set changes to come out from the lower level so in one split moment someone’s bedroom is suddenly a writer’s office. Production Manager Maggie Koch needs to be singled out for making this work,  and without a solid technical and engineer team, this could have been a disaster.

Acting wise, this “City” is flawless. Jeffrey Brian Adams and Brandon Dahlquist take on the lead roles of writer and muse with gusto. Co-star Ryan Drummond almost steals the show as a movie director who wants to turn Stine (Adams)’s book into a film, in walks Nancy Zoppi as Allura, who is as sultry and comedic as any femme fatale of the 1940s can be. Zoppi is mesmerizing in her tight fitting dresses and spot-on timing that she seem to pay homage to Marilyn Monroe.

This is likely one of the best productions ever put on by the San Francisco Playhouse and runs through September 17. To get tickets and more information, visit