Picks and Pans Review: City of Angels

updated 06/11/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/11/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Original Broadway Cast

Not since Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods has there been a more intriguing Broadway score than Cy Coleman's music and David Zippel's lyrics for City of Angels. Sure, Phantom of the Opera has nonstop, wave-crashing melodies, but it's awash in low-tide lyrics. Not here, thanks to Zippel's delicious wordplays and teasing imagery.

The show, about a '40s detective pursuing a dame, displays a subtle complexity. Its songs smolder with film noir sensuality, but sound jauntier on record. This is no updated "doo wah doo wah" jazz score. It's Manhattan Transfer goes Broadway.

For the most part, City of Angels doesn't even sound like a show album, from the lush torch song, "With Every Breath I Take," to the swinging instrumental closer, "Double Talk Walk," where a 26-piece orchestra jams and cooks.

Singing vocal jazz numbers that comment on the action is the Angel City 4 Quartet (Peter Davis, Gary Kahn, Amy Jane London and Jackie Presti), whose voices percolate into a mellow brew. Don't expect Broadway belting, either. Kay McClelland, who does "With Every Breath I Take," and Rachel York, who sings the alluring "Lost and Found" ("If you're not celibate/ We could raise hell a bit"), possess smooth, vibrato-less, band-singer voices.

Not that the show doesn't have an occasional Broadway pulse. In "You're Nothing Without Me," for example, star James Naughton sings a rousing duet with his alter ego (Gregg Edelman).

A lot of attention has been paid to Larry Gelbart's funny book for City of Angels. To hear the music separately is to savor its rich sophistication. Though martinis, cigarettes and mystery women are dangerous to your health, here's a chance to enjoy the emotions they evoke. (Columbia)

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