THEATRE / Like they used to write

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WE'VE SEEN the movies, we know the sounds: the brassy big-band starbursts that spell glamour, the sizzle of muted trumpets, the stretch of an alto sax, the laid-back ramblings of a bar-room piano. Cy Coleman has absorbed them so well it's hard to hear where the genuine article ends and he begins. Actually he doesn't so much begin as kick- start City of Angels: a spunky vamp and the scatting of close-harmony voices - 'The Angel City 4', a kind of jazz-age Greek chorus. As ever, Coleman's artistry lies in his ability to integrate: with a smart (almost too smart) lyricist in David Zippel, the songs carry the book narrative forward; the 'movie' underscoring is so smoothly applied you almost don't notice it's there. Coleman has a devilish ear for style but it's one thing aping the musical vernacular of an era - all that swinging and crooning and Latino purring - and quite another coming through with numbers that are at once terrific pastiche and terrific originals. In a couple of instances, Coleman has. His torch song 'With Every Breath I Take' is a hit masquerading as a hit, its smoky blueness effected through the plunging vocal line. It needs a Sarah Vaughan to do justice to the voluptuous lower notes, the ones that really count: Fiona Hendley doesn't quite fill them. Martin Smith's Stine hits the swing style right on the nose with his very first number, 'Double Talk', but it's in the duet with Stone, his own creation, that Coleman really delivers: 'You're Nothing Without Me' marries an agitato verse (synthesised harpsichord used like a typewriter rhythm) to a streamlined, big-band chorus. In that number the composer of Sweet Charity lives.