Theatre Review: ‘A Splitting Case’

By Francis A. Wilson —

Of all the musicals, in all of the college campuses, in all the world, “City of Angels” had to come to mine. “City of Angels” is a musical that first debuted at the Virginia Theater. It debuted December 11, 1989, and it ran for three years.

The musical has been performed over eight hundred times, and now finds itself here at the Margaret Williams Theater at New Jersey City University. “City of Angels” was originally directed by Michael Blakemore, but now has been brought to the students and various other patrons of Jersey City by the Music, Dance, and Theater Department.

“City of Angels” is a noir style musical steeped in the metaphysical with snippets of risqué scenes of sexual tension and downright debauchery. The sexual content was one of the musical’s more redeeming qualities.

The noir [a black detective story] style was a real treat, and very refreshing. It really appealed to the paperback detective novel enthusiast, and seemed to go over quite well. The noir style is easily identifiable, and a fun playful way to portray a story. However, the problem comes in when you add the metaphysical twist.

The divergent and separate colliding worlds confused me at first. I thought “City of Angels” was just going to be a noir detective story, very basic and plain, but then the second world emerged and threw me for a bit of a loop.

In a topsy-turvy kind of a way I fumbled around; mentally speaking of course, trying to piece together what was going on. It turns out that the musical’s story is in two parts, told in two ways by two separate worlds that share a loose connection to one another.

Each world was separate, and distinct. The noir world was obviously dark, and covered in various shades. It almost has a gritty feel to it. Just the way I like my plays.

The second world was bright, and very much vivid. Initially this fact didn’t dawn on me. It was only later after some research that I discovered this interesting fact about the musical.

The problem was the lights. The lights were overwhelming at times, and seemed as though they were stuck on the rave setting. Often I would find myself distracted by the lights, and couldn’t follow the story as easily because of them.

The stages, however, were magnificent and well done. The elegant design, and simplicity added in the shifting story arch’s, and hide the stage crew perfectly. This was until a small malfunction during one shift.

The stage background seemed to take on a life of its own at one point, and decided to become a little problematic. It really wasn’t a big deal, and the stage crew promptly took care of the problem. Other than that, the transitions between the two story lines, and the shifting scenes came off flawlessly.

Sure, the musical had a few hiccups here and there, but the overall experience was alright. I would have enjoyed “City of Angels” more if I had more theater knowledge. The over use of lights, and their intensity distracted me, and the metaphysical aspect confused me.

The thing that was important was that the actors enjoyed what they were doing, and it showed. They may not have won me over completely, but judging from the audience reactions, I am sure they will go on to have great success during their run.