Lyric Theatre at Illinois’ production of the 1984 musical “City of Angels” opened a four-show run April 13 at the Virginia Theatre in downtown Champaign.

Putting on the show there was unusual, and the somewhat broader stage at the Virginia, as opposed to the Tryon Festival Theatre at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, was an advantage for this somewhat-sprawling production.

Firstly, let me say that this “City of Angels” has nothing to do with a 1998 film, which was a remake of Wim Wenders’ 1987 German film “Der Hillel über Berlin” (“Wings of Desire”).

Secondly, explaining “City of Angels” can be very complicated, and so I will try to stay out of a possibly very deep rabbit hole.

Briefly put, the show is about the interpenetration of fiction and reality. In this case, scriptwriter Stine is adapting his novel about a mystery case involving a private detective named Stone.

On the stage, one sees the simultaneous drama of fictitious Stone and real-life Stine.

At one point, created character Stone enters the life of creator Stine, and at the end, the fictional hero rescues his creator by finishing the script.

Descending from this philosophical level, what we have in this show is a spoof of 1940s and 1950s film-noir movies. You might say that “City of Angels” is a comedy of clichés, full of references to film versions of Raymond Chandler novels such as “The Big Sleep” and “Farewell My Lovely,” and this show evokes for me other film-noir spoofs such as “The Cheap Detective” and “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid.”

The original production of “City of Angels,” with music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by David Zippel and book by Larry Gelbart, opened on Dec. 11, 1989, at Broadway’s Virginia Theatre (yet!) and ran for 879 performances.

Much talent and imaginative work went into the current production of “City of Angels,” but I must say that watching it was a very confusing experience. To begin with, many private-eye movies have complicated plots, but when you superimpose a real-life drama over a mystery plot, you have compounded the confusion. There were no supertitles at this performance, the program bulletin had only general information about the plot, and there was no list of musical numbers.

The stage direction by Sarah Wigley tried to keep a line between the left-hand world of Stone and the right-hand world of Stine, but that only partly reduced the confusion.

Among the actor/singers in this production, Nathan Tilton as the Hollywood producer/director Buddy Fidler was consistently funny.

Maurice Field III was convincing as the stoic, long-suffering scriptwriter, and Martin Pizzaro, with generic trench coat, gave a lively imitation of the screen shamus Stone.

One of the most affecting moments of the show was the duet of Tilton and Fields in the number “You’re Nothing Without Me,” which ends Act I, and, in reprise, the show.

This musical has a number of strong solos. Emma Mize, as the long-suffering Girl Friday Oolie, sang with passion “You Can Always Depend on Me.”

Ramman Takhsh as Jimmy Powers forcefully led a quartet called “Angel City 4” in a series of period vocal numbers.

Emily Venturella as Alaura Kingsley and Charlotte Bergel as her wanton stepdaughter, Mallory, did well as “Big Sleep” archetypes. Esteban Valentin-Martinez was forceful as Lt. Munoz, enemy of Stone (see “Chinatown” for original). Kathryn King was versatile as Stine’s wife, Gabby, and as a fictional prostitute.

The lively band of 14 instrumentalists, on stage left, were strongly led by Michael Tilly on the keyboard. Tilly was also credited in the role of Del Lacosta.

Kate Spademan’s scenic design clearly defined stage action areas for Stone, Stine and Buddy Fidler. Kelsea Andrade’s costume designs evoked idiomatically post-war Los Angeles.

Lighting designer Quinn Schuster did a fine job in spotlighting the musical numbers of the Angel City 4’s numbers and others as well. Sarah Calvert’s sound design adroitly balanced solo voices and the stage band.

Despite problems, this production had many fun moments but lacked overall comedic impact.

John Frayne hosts ‘Classics of the Phonograh’ on Saturdays on WILL-FM and, in retirement, teaches at the UI. His email is