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Hector Berlioz / City of Angels

Rick Rogers Published: December 11, 2012

On this day in classical music: French composer Hector Berlioz was born near Grenoble in 1803. In 1921, he went to Paris to study medicine but gave that up in favor of music three years later. He won the prestigious Prix de Rome in 1830 on his fourth attempt. Berlioz is best known for his epic “Symphonie fantastique” of 1830 and the “Requiem” of 1837. The composer was an accomplished orchestrator and published a Treatise on Instrumentation in 1844. Listen to Sir Mark Elder and the Halle Orchestra perform Berlioz’s overture to “Benvenuto Cellini” during the 2009 London Proms series.

Hector Berlioz
Hector Berlioz

On this day in the musical theatre: “City of Angels” opened on Broadway in 1989. A lighthearted spoof of the film noir genre popular in Hollywood during the 1940s, “City of Angels” featured a score by Cy Coleman and David Zippel, with a book by Larry Gelbart. The musical weaves together two plots, the real world of a writer trying to turn his book into a screenplay, and the reel world of the fictional film. “City of Angels” won six Tony Awards in 1990, including one for best score and another for best musical. It ran more than two years. Listen to the Broadway company perform “What You Don’t Know About Women” and “You’re Nothing Without Me” from the 1990 Tony Awards broadcast.

City of Angels - Original Broadway Cast
City of Angels - Original Broadway Cast

Musical musings: There’s nothing novel about show-stopping songs and performances in Broadway musicals, but how long has it been since a musical was brought to a halt by riotous jokes? If you ask me, one would have to travel back to the 1960’s —  to “Bye Bye Birdie,” “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” and “Little Me” — to find a musical as flat-out funny as “City of Angels,” the new show about old Hollywood that arrived last night at the Virginia Theater. This is an evening in which even a throwaway wisecrack spreads laughter like wildfire through the house, until finally the roars from the balcony merge with those from the orchestra and the pandemonium takes on a life of its own. Only the fear of missing the next gag quiets the audience down. To make matters sweeter, the jokes sometimes subside just long enough to permit a show-stopping song or performance or two to make their own ruckus at center stage. In the large supporting cast, special attention must be paid — and will be, since she first appears wearing only a sheet — to Rachel York, who sings a torrid seduction number (“Lost and Found”) in Act I before serving as a self-promoting starlet in Act II. As Stone says in somber voice-over when describing another Hollywood siren, “Only the floor kept her legs from going on forever.” With lines like that, I, for one, would have been happy if “City of Angels” had gone on just as long. – Frank Rich in The New York Times


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