Stone, a tough Los Angeles private eye, lies on a hospital gurney with a bullet in his shoulder and a lot on his mind. He flashes back to a week earlier, when his loyal Girl Friday secretary, Oolie, ushered in a rich, beautiful woman named Alaura. Alaura claims she wants Stone to find her missing stepdaughter, Mallory Kingsley, a beautiful "bad" girl. Against his better judgment, he takes the case.
A man at a typewriter appears onstage, and Stone and Alaura suddenly back up, "rewind," and play the scene with a few changes. The man at the typewriter is Stine, author of the popular detective novel City of Angels, which he is adapting into a screenplay at the behest of Hollywood producer/director Buddy Fidler. Stine's wife Gabby has misgivings and wishes that he would stick to novels, but for now, Stine is enjoying the ride.
We begin to see the interplay between "reality" and fiction as Gabby (in the real world) and Oolie (in the story-within-the-story) lament how their men won't listen to them ("What You Don't Know About Women").
Stone, alone in his dreary bungalow, is listening to the radio: Jimmy Powers and the Angel City 4 are singing "You Gotta Look Out For Yourself." Two thugs break down his door, beat him up, and knock him out. Cut to Buddy Fidler reading this scene in the screenplay: we see that his secretary, Donna, is the model for Oolie, and that Buddy can't help meddling with everything ("The Buddy System").
Stone is rudely awakened by Lieutenant Munoz, who was Stone's partner on the force but now bears him a major grudge. Once, Stone loved a low-rent lounge singer named Bobbi, whom Stine based on Gabby ("With Every Breath I Take"). But Bobbi wanted stardom more than marriage, and when Stone caught her with a Hollywood producer (based on Buddy) tempers flared, a gun went off, and the producer was killed. Munoz has never forgiven Stone for "getting away with murder."
Stone, angry after the beating, confronts Alaura at her mansion and meets several more unsavory characters, including her lustful stepson, her polio-stricken elderly husband, and his quack doctor. Greed and malice hover like smog, but Alaura's charms and bankroll keep Stone on the case ("The Tennis Song"). He fruitlessly pursues the missing Mallory in a scene that recalls a film montage ("Ev'rybody's Gotta Be Somewhere"), only to find her waiting naked in his bed ("Lost And Found"). Stone somehow manages to resist temptation -- which is more than can be said for his creator. After Gabby returns to New York, Stine takes comfort in Donna's bed.
A photographer breaks into Stone's bungalow and snaps a picture of him with Mallory. She runs off with his gun, which is subsequently used to murder the quack doctor. Stone is framed for the killing; Munoz gleefully arrests him ("All You Have To Do Is Wait").
Stine is having a lousy time of it too. Buddy is butchering his script, his conscience is nagging him about his infidelity, and Stone, his own creation, is disgusted with him. The curtain falls with each of them arguing, to a swinging big-band accompaniment, "You're Nothing Without Me."
In a recording studio, Jimmy Powers and the Angel City 4 are singing "Stay With Me," which then becomes a record playing in a bedroom that looks like Alaura's, but actually belongs to Carla Haywood, Buddy's wife, who will play Alaura in the movie.
Stone languishes in jail, attended only by Oolie, who like her alter ego, Donna, is feeling used by men ("You Can Always Count On Me"). Stone is mysteriously bailed out, but the two hoods catch up with him and nearly blow him up before he neatly turns the tables.
Stine has troubles of his own. Lonely at a Hollywood party of Buddy's sycophants, including a Hollywood composer ("Alaura's Theme"), Stine phones home only to find that Gabby has discovered that he cheated on her. He flies to New York with an elaborately prepared excuse, but she's not buying it ("It Needs Work").
Stone, fighting to clear his name, is led to a brothel ("LA Blues") where he is stunned to find Bobbi. We learn it was she who shot the producer; Stone has been covering for her all this time. Together, they face the wreckage of their love ("With Every Breath I Take").
In Hollywood, Stine is approached by a young starlet, Avril, who will be playing Mallory. She begs him to reconsider killing off Mallory near the end. He says he'll think about it.
Oolie, meanwhile, has discovered that Alaura is a fortune hunter who has already murdered one rich husband and is planning to do away with this one, once she had eliminated his son, daughter, and doctor. She tried to get her stepson, Peter, to kill the doctor and Mallory, but he couldn't bring himself to kill. Stone confronts her at the mansion; they grapple for her gun; shots ring out. Alaura falls dead, Stone is gravely wounded, and we're back where we started.
But where does that leave Stine? Gabby has rejected him and his lover, Donna, has been rewriting his script. Stine faces the collapse of his real and fictive worlds, and as his emotions take over, his wit turns bitter ("Funny"). When Stine arrives on the movie set to find that Buddy's name appears above his on the screenplay, and that the shallow crooner Jimmy Powers will play Stone, Stine boils over. With the "real" Stone, his conscience, finally leading him to make the right choice, he rages at Buddy, gets himself fired, and is about to get beat up by two security guards when Stone somehow appears at Stine's typewriter and writes him the fighting skills of a superhero, then tacks on a "Hollywood ending" in which Gabby returns, forgiving all. Together they celebrate ("I'm Nothing Without You") as the curtain falls.
Hollywood Cast ... Movie Cast
(*denotes Singing Role)
Stine*, a writer of fiction … (Himself)
(Himself) … Stone*, Stine’s creation, Private Eye
Gabby*, Stine’s wife … Bobbi*, Stone’s ex-wife
Donna*, Buddy’s secretary … Oolie*, Stone’s secretary
Buddy Fidler*, movie director/producer … Irwin S. Irving, a movie mogul
Carla Haywood, Buddy’s wife ... Alaura Kingsley*, a femme fatale
Avril Raines, a starlet … Mallory Kingsely*, Alaura’s Stepdaughter
Jimmy Powers*, a movie crooner … Jimmy Powers*, a movie crooner
Angel City Four*, vocal quartet … Angel City Four*, vocal quartet
Werner Kriegler, an actor … Luther Kingsley, Alaura’s husband
Gerald Pierce, an actor ... Peter Kingsley, Alaura’s stepson
Pancho Vargas, an actor … Lieutenant Munoz*, a police detective
Gene, an assistant director … Officer Pasco*, a policeman/Hospital orderly
Stand-in, a studio employee … Margaret, a maid at the Kingsleys'
Gilbert, a barber … Dr. Mandril, a religious leader
Studio Cop, a studio employee … Big Six, a thug
Studio Cop, a studio employee … Sonny, a smaller thug
Del Dacosta, a songwriter … Mahoney*, a reporter/Hospital orderly
Cinematographer (Jack), a studio employee …Harlan Yamato*, county coroner
Shoeshine, a studio employee … Commissioner Gaines, police commissioner
Hairdresser, a studio employee/Anna a masseuse … Margie, a brothel keeper
Small speaking roles from chorus:
Act I, Scene 7 (Movie)
Radio Announcer's Voice (OS)
Act I, Scene 10 (Movie)
Man's Voice (OS), Cocktail Lounge M.C.
Act II, Scene 1 (Hollywood)
Recording Studio Engineer
Act II, Scene 3 (Movie)
Guard, L.A. County Jail
Act II, Scenes 14 & 15 (Movie)
Girl, a hooker
Bootsie, a hooker
Act II, Scene 19 (Hollywood)
Nephew, to Buddy, studio employee
Studio Prop Man
Studio Sound Man
Non-speaking roles from chorus:
Act I, Scene 10 (Movie)
SMALL CROWD, patrons in the Cocktail Lounge
Act 1, Scene 12 (Hollywood)
Man, on the phone in a booth
Act I, Scene 14 (Movie)
Butler, Kingsley household staff
Act I, Scene 18 (Movie)
Man, photographer w/ flash camera
Act II, Scene 1 (Hollywood)
Crowd of Guests, at Buddy’s brunch
Piano Player, guest at Buddy’s brunch
Act II, Scene 19 (Hollywood)
Movie, Cast & Crew – Full Company
Bill, a lighting technician