An edge-of-your-seat musical.
That's how former "Brady Bunch" star Barry Williams describes the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, "City of Angels," coming to the Capitol Theatre for seven performances, Sept. 22-26, to open the Theater League of Utah's 1992-93 season.But it's not the show's suspense that keeps patrons riveted. According to Williams, it's award-winning playwright Larry Gel-bart's clipped, fast-paced dialogue - written in a very rapid, rat-a-tat-a-tat style reminiscent of the film noir whodunit genre.
Like those moody, Hollywood black-and-white mysteries in the 1940s, Gelbart has packed the show's script with the sarcasm and double entendres of the period.
"And because of the nature of the characters, with their fast, significant dialogue, you have to sit up and pay attention," said Williams, who plays Detective Stone - a Bogart-style character whose "reel-life" exploits and comments intertwine with the "real life" adventures of the show's central character, novelist-turned-screenwriter Stine.
Williams said one of his favorite lines from the production (and it's not even his own character's dialogue, but someone else's) comes when Stine, an author lured to Hollywood to adapt his first book into a screenplay, is involved in a discussion with a movie producer.
"Stine says, `Give the audience a little credit, will you?' and the producer replies, `Forget about credit. Movies are a cash business. They pay us money and we make it easy for them,' " said Williams.
"City of Angels" also features an abundance of high-tech scenic artistry. The scenes focusing on the writer have a more realistic Technicolor look, while those sequences featuring Stine's screenplay characters are bathed in glorious black-and-white.
Williams, who is prominent during these sequences of the musical, noted that he has plenty of Phillip Marlowe-type speeches. Like this voice-over when a seductive client sashays into his office:
"One look . . . and you could tell she had a body that made Venus DeMilo look like she was all thumbs."
Williams said he had the privilege of working with Gelbart for several days at his home, reading through the script and studying the materials Gelbart had used to research the piece.
"There were dogeared mystery novels with passages highlighted in the borders. He'd send me home with seven or eight at a time, and these would go back and forth," explained Williams, adding that he also watched several videos of movies from the period and learned a lot about how those films were made.
Williams, who joined the tour of "City of Angels" shortly after it closed in Los Angeles, said the musical has an intriguing plotline.
The production's central character, Stine, is caught up in turning his detective novel into a screenplay. The writer is constantly fighting with the studio to maintain the integrity of his novel, and he's also frustrated with having to decide what goes in and what to keep out of the screenplay.
Then the screenplay's characters come to life, and the script is loaded with the same kind of people traditionally associated with the mystery movies of the 1940s - an overbearing tycoon, a scheming wife (involved in an incestuous relationship with her stepson) and a tough-as-nails detective and the Girl Friday who secretly loves him.
Williams describes his character, Detective Stone, as a loner.
"He's a bit hard-boiled and he does his share of both giving and taking punches throughout the evening. He's also as comfortable with the privileged side of society as he is with the underbelly," said Williams. "He has a strong moral code. He sees things in black and white, right and wrong."
In the role of Stone, "I tend to approach things heroically, but I do have flaws. I'm attracted to women who are no good for me and I know it, but I can't help myself."
Williams said that life on the road with a touring stage show is demanding, "but it's pleasant to be doing a show that is rewarding and is something you're proud of. The lines are intelligent, witty and humorous, not corny."
He said the staging itself is intricate. There are more than 20 sets and some of the show is done cinemagraphically, with "shots" that zoom in and zoom out, scenes that fade in and out, and even some amazing closeups.
While Williams is best known for his work as Greg in the long-running TV series, "The Brady Bunch" (he recently published a book about that experience, called "Growing Up Brady: I Was a Teenage Greg"), he's also logged considerable time on stage.
He toured with "Pippin" and has done several stock and regional theater productions, including "West Side Story" and "Grease."
The original Broadway version of "City of Angels" won six Tony Awards (including "best musical"), the New York Drama Critics Award for best musical, and eight Drama Desk Awards, including "outstanding musical."
The music was composed by Cy Coleman, who's been nominated for Tony Awards eight times. His latest project was "The Will Rogers Follies," which is still playing on Broadway and just began its national tour. Other well-known Coleman musicals include "Wildcat!" and "Sweet Charity."
In addition to Williams, the touring cast includes Jordan Leeds (Stine), who was a member of the original Broadway company of "Les Miserables"; Betsy Joslyn, who performed the role of The Witch in the Broadway production of "Into the Woods"; Ronnie Farer, who starred in "They're Playing Our Song" on Broadway; and Charles Levin, re-creating the dual roles of Buddy Fidler and Irwin S. Irving, which he played in both the Broadway and Los Angeles casts.
Also in the cast: Anastasia Barzee (Mallory Kingsley/Avril Raines), who recently appeared in an award-winning revival of Noel Coward's "Present Laughter" in Los Angeles, and Jessica Molaskey (Alaura Kingsley/Carla Hay-wood), who was a member of the original cast of this season's Tony winner, "Crazy for You."
- PERFORMANCES of "City of Angels" are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, Sept. 22-24, at 8 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, Sept. 25-26, at both 2 and 8 p.m. There is no Sunday performance.
Ticket prices range from $19 to $37, depending on location (orchestra, mezzanine or balcony) and performance time. Tickets are available in advance from the Capitol Theatre box office and ARTS-TIX by calling 355-2787.