Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd - Book, Music & Lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley

L - R Alec Medlock and Sean Smith - Photos Sherry Lynn 

By Joe Straw

I told myself that if I started crying, if the tears started flowing, it means this is a very good production. About a minute and a half into the show, my eyes were gushing, torrents of waters running down my cheeks, from every kinds of wonderful imaginational connection to my very being. – Narrator

There is a grand similarity between The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd (1965) and Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett (1953).  Godot has Vladimir, Estragon, Pozzo, Lucky, and a Boy – similar to what we have in this musical and likely a coincidence. 

Legend never gets it right and one supposes, leaning into the grapevine, the team of Newley and Bricusse, during out-of-town tryouts, kept introducing new things to make the book relevant to the times.  The allegorical sense of the book, if you will, conveys the setting of the place and time where something drastic happened somewhere in the character’s distant past – possibly an imaginative nuclear war (1965), or a disastrous end to the Civil Rights Movement – one can only guess.  

One notices, in the stills from the earlier production, the characters were all dressed in exquisitely absurd and tattered rags, made up of pieces of unwashed and unmatched clothing giving the audience the impression that something has indeed gone horribly wrong. But in this production, we have something slightly different.    

The Children’s Theatre Group of Southern California presents The Roar of The Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd, Book, Music, and Lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley and directed by Kay Cole at the Eclectic Company Theatre through November 23, 2014.

Run!  Run!  Run to see this production!  The children are adorable, the singer marvelous, and the music, performed by Emily Cohn, is incredible.

On a wonderful day like to today
I defy any cloud to appear in the sky
Dare any raindrop to plop in my eye
On a wonderful day like today

In this small intimate theatre, one is startled by the brilliant voices of Sean Smith, Alec Medlock, Caitlin Gallogly, and Marc Antonio Pritchett who, separately and together, make one feel that we are at the Pantages.  The music jumps off the stage and into our hearts – a marvelous thing when this happens.

Front: Lola Michele Brown (l.), Vera Wheatley. Rear: Tess Cooley (l.), Liam Daniels, Alec Medlock, Alexa Druyanoff, Langdon James.

The Urchins (Lola Michelle Brown, Tess Cooley, Alex Druyanoff, Langdon Janos and Vera Wheatley) opened the musical with the opening number The Beautiful Land with wonderful Musical Staging by Kay Cole and highlighted with some superb lighting by John Dickey, the Lighting Designer.

Who can I turn to when nobody needs me?
My heart wants to know and so I must go
Where destiny leads me.

In any case, the characters, in this version, move from one advantageous place to another with nice luggage in tow and no set place to go until they find themselves in a park already prepared with chalk on the sidewalk. This is possibly a place near a food source. One character, Sir (Sean Smith), is corpulent and has all the food and wine he could want, and the other, Cocky (Alec Medlock), is skinny and hungry all of the time.   The large one controls the food and wine and the Urchins, those panivorous creatures, hold out for the scantily pittance of bread that may or may not be bestowed on their very being.

Bird flying high, You know how I feel.
Sun in the sky, You know how I feel.
Breeze drifting by, You know how I feel.
It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me
Feeling good

All of the characters have no place to go so they pass the time playing games with no real purpose and with only the perception there is a winner – a game in life that no one really wins.

And when observing, one is unsure whether the ontological sound of crackling thunder snaps us out of a dream or a nightmare, or whether they are real or imagined.  One is unsure whether the characters, each in their constructive bit of art, are in a timeless limbo or placed in their own post apocalyptic setting where things never go the way expected or intended. That’s the only way I can make allegorical sense of the book.

Bonnie Hellman directs the delightful production and overall the night is wonderful and the singing is absolutely incredible.   But that said, one wonders if the musical has her aesthetic mark with a continuous through line that makes sense of the entirety as a whole. Who are these characters?  Why are they there?  What has happened to get them into this predicament?  Why don’t they leave?  Why are Corky and Sir dressed so nicely?  Why do they need each other? What keeps the characters together? All right, these are too many questions for only a few minor problems.  Hellman’s touch requires a few simple moments to give the book a continuous flow of great songs with dialogue that moves us to the apex.  Love says a lot about why these characters are together and love is the question answered in the song “Where Would You Be Without Me?” 

Kay Cole, the other Co-Director and responsible for the Musical Staging, adds some very nice touches to the dance numbers, which one normally doesn’t see in 99-seat houses and which at times caught me off guard with her inventiveness.   Cole delightfully manages to capture each character and presents the remembrances and life experiences of the characters in a wonderful adventurous artistry. In short, her work is exquisite.

John Dickey, Lighting Designer, provides a very grand light show in the opening number “The Beautiful Land” that sends this production into skyrocketing territory.

The Urchins of Lola Michelle Brown, Tess Cooley, Alexa Druyanoff, Langdon Janos, and Vera Wheatley were exceptional and kept things lively on stage. The dancing was warm and incomparable.

Sean Smith plays Sir and has an exceptional voice and also gives the character a full, rich life.  His movements on stage are impeccable and he plays the game with finesse and with a supreme confidence. There is something about Sir’s character that gets it wrong when he mentions “The roar of the greasepaint – The smell of the crowd” as though he has forgotten the correct way to say it – even though he is the smartest person in the park. It’s like forgetting the lyrics of a song over time. The execution of this one line alone is an exceptional clue about the character and the character’s motives.  Also, Sir is impeccably dressed – making him not particularly different from his counterpart who is also nicely dressed.

Alec Medlock is Cocky and has an exceptional voice and also a commanding presence on stage.  His gingerly little wretched everyman approach is very appealing and there is a lot of good work going on, on stage.  Still, there is more room to manage the songs, more life to give, and depth to the characters emotions. Cocky is asking his creator for the world in “Who can I Turn to” and not getting it.  That must be so frustrating.  Still, Medlock’s performance is a lot of fun and not to be missed.  

Liam Daniels is The Kid and does some very nice things on stage. Still The Kid needs a stronger objective and one that will take the character to greater heights and farther along to get where he is going. One needs to give the character more to do to establish a greater relationship with Sir. Finding the core of the character takes a lot of work. Nevertheless Daniels has a very good look and a very nice presence on stage.

Alec Medlock, Caitlin Gallogly

Caitlin Gallogly is The Girl and has an amazing voice. She is a stunning creature that plays a slightly offbeat character.  At times, one is not sure if she is a real person, a figment of an imagination, or a dream of sorts. The character Gallogly provides is slightly offbeat, shy, and moves in a direction motivated by the thoughts and actions of others. One wonders if there are other unexplored avenues for this particular character to use rather than being frightfully harassed by the other characters on stage.  That aside Gallogly has a beautiful and commanding voice on stage.

Marc Antonio Pritchett plays The Stranger who inadvertently wins the game and sings the splendid song “Feeling Good”, marvelously.  Pritchett also doubles on Percussion and Sound Design, which I can’t help but believe added a great deal to the impressive numbers in this show. The music and sound were outstanding.  

Phil Biedron plays the Bully.  He appears on stage wearing a dress, a gown of sorts, and asked to put on a wig.  He then seduces Cocky, with help from the others, takes him off stage and later brings Cocky back, unconscious, and throws him a few feet away from the game board.  One can only imagine what happened in the other area of the park.

Tricia Berry, Costume Designer, has Sir and Cocky dressed impeccably and I’m not sure if that really worked as to the makeup of the character and the book moves the show.

Emily Cohn is the Musical Director and I was able to see the outline of her face at the keyboard and watched as she flipped the pages of the score in time with the music, which altogether made the night incredible.

Robert Briscoe Evans and Sherry Lynn served as Producers of the show and really brought together the elements to create a fantastic night of theatre.

Dan Mailley, Set Designer, created a park from which our players could play.  It was functional and creative.   

Michael Riney was the Stage Manager.

Philip Sokoloff was the Publicist.

Scott Wheatley was responsible for the Poster Layout. 

Run!  Run!  Run!  And take someone who is not stingy about giving love and sharing love.

The Eclectic Company Theatre
5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd.
Valley Village, CA  91607

Reservations:  818-508-3003

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