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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
The Civilians' This Beautiful City

”If you learn to listen, God will speak to you.”
”Church politics are all about power and money.”— Two different viewpoints in Colorado Springs
The beautiful city of this show's title is Colorado Springs, Colorado, the headquarters of the outspoken Evangelical Christians of the Religious and Political Right and home to more than 80 national religious organizations. So, before I continue, let me reveal where I’m coming from. I’m Jewish, and I strongly object to the current movement to subvert the Constitution and conjoin church and state in America. Moreover, my cosmopolitan daughter, who was born in Africa during our family’s seven years on that continent, who spent her junior year in college at the Sorbonne, and enlisted as a six-month volunteer in the Israeli navy after she graduated, now teaches Race, Religion and Gender Issues at---you guessed it---the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. Talk about not preaching to the choir!

The above to explain why it was with some trepidation that I visited the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City to view Steven Cosson and Jim Lewis’ new production, This Beautiful City, which has music and lyrics by Michael Friedman. Commissioned and developed by the New York group, The Civilians, with the assistance of the Sundance Institute, Colorado College, and Los Angeles’ Center Theatre Group, this piece had its world premiere at the 2008 Humana Festival of New American Plays in Louisville, where it was co-produced by The Studio Theatre of Washington, D.C. Here in L.A. it is co-produced with the Vineyard Theatre in New York. So it has some pretty serious credentials. According to the program notes This Beautiful City also had "significant and ongoing support"a from Colorado Springs’ New Life Church, The Mill, the Revolution House of Prayer, Vanguard Church, the Citizens Project, Emmanuel Baptist Church, Woodmen Valley Chapel, and Coloradoans for Fairness and Equality.

My reservations notwithstanding, this is a first-class production: bright music, relevant lyrics, talented players, and a particularly beautiful set design by Neil Patel consisting of a wall of blocks of continually varying colors and patterns backedby a huge background photo of Pike’s Peak. The high quality of this production should not be a huge surprise as The Civilians have enjoyed considerable off-Broadway sucess with two other serio-comic shows with music and lyrics by Michael Friedman — Gone Missing and (I am) Nobody’s Lunch (both reviewed at Curtainup and linked below).

Emily Ackerman, Marsha Stephanie Blake, Brad Heberlee, Brandon Miller, Stephen Plunkett and Alison Weller morph into a wide variety of Coloradoans. Here's just a sampling of characters to whom they give voice: an atheist who makes her living selling those metal Darwin fishes that mock the Jesus fishes that adorn the back of many Christians’ cars. . . the three members of a cowboy band called the Colorado Wranglers. . . a Celtic Wiccan whose family sends him to a camp to be cured of being gay. . .people who disdain the powerful bullying tactics of the Reverend Dobson’s Focus on the Family. . . as well as ministers like Pastor "Ted" Haggard, the founder of the New Life Church who grew his ministry into a megachurch with a congregation of 14,000. In a nod to the recent scandal at the Air Force Academy iwe hear Mike Weinstein, the father of a Jewish cadet, charge the Academy administration with allowing Christian cadets to proselytize and evangelize their classmates.

Some of the groups and individuals named and portrayed are apparently authentic; others I’m not sure about. But in a city with 510 churches for a population of 372,000, any church is possible. At any rate it all includes some powerfully delivered musical sermons. Though the company is known for its way with irony and paradox, This Beautiful City's aims at all-around fairness and consequently comes off as something of a hallelujah for that old time revivalist religion as practiced in Colorado Springs.

Gone Missing
[I am} Nobody's Lunch

This Beautiful City
By Steven Cosson and Jim Lewis, with music and lyrics by Michael Friedman
Directed by Steven Cosson
Ensemble Cast: Emily Ackerman, Marsha Stephanie Blake, Brad Heberlee, Brandon Miller, Stephen Plunkett, Alison Weller
Set Design: Neil Patel
Lighting Design: David Weiner
Costume Design: Alix Hester
Sound Design: Ken Travis

Running Time: 2 hours 30 minutes including one 15-minute intermission
Center Theatre Group, Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City, (213) 628-2772,
From : 09/21/08 to 10/26/08; opening 09/21/08
Tickets: $20 - $45
Reviewed by Cynthia Citron based on 09/28/08 performance
Song List: Cowboys, This Beautiful City, An Email From Ted, End Times,Doubting Thomas, Demons and Angels, Freedom,Take Me There, The Order of Things, Another Email From Ted, Urban Planning, Pikes Peak.
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