Regional Reviews: New Jersey
It's Nice to Have Bricusse-Newley's
Also see Tim's review of The Baker's Wife
The soulless Sir (representing the moneyed ruling class) travels the countryside with naive Cocky (representing the proletariat) playing The Game, which is a kind of human board game for which Sir makes up and changes the rules as he goes along. Sir has convinced Cocky that it is fun to play and that it doesn't matter who wins. However, Sir manipulates the rules so that he always wins and Cocky always loses. Sir dispenses fantasies, rewards, threats and flattery to keep Cocky playing the game.
In the middle of the second act, an alien African comes upon the scene and his ignorance of The Game and sense of liberation somehow allow him to defeat Sir. Seeing this, Cocky demands fairness if he is to continue traveling about playing The Game. Sir is forced to agree, but we see that Sir is ever alert to regain his advantages, and, as directed by Gary P. Cohen, we ultimately sense that he will.
It may seem pedantic to lay out the thin book of a small musical whose existence in the repertory is solely the result of the success of several pop songs (the most popular of which fits the book as badly as do the songs in today's jukebox musicals), but in this fine production in a relatively intimate theatre with the ensemble of assisting "Urchins" (a youthful female ensemble) wisely cut from fifteen to a more manageable six, the unusual book plays with more conviction and smarts than one could dare hope.
Greasepaint originally failed in the British provinces with its planned West End engagement scuttled. Hot upon his successful Broadway production of the similarly styled Bricusse-Newley Stop The World, I Want To Get Off, David Merrick brought Greasepaint to Broadway with the condition that Newley assume the role of Cocky. Thanks largely to the wide popularity of Tony Bennett's recording of "Who Can I Turn To?", Greasepaint recouped its investment from its pre-Broadway tour and its first few weeks on Broadway. However, it failed to be nominated for a Best Musical Tony, and managed a run of only 231 performances.
This also-ran 1965 Broadway musical has a book that is largely a downer. This is an allegory that is very Samuel Beckett in style. Like Waiting for Godot, it is set on a barren landscape, depicts a depressing situation and uses humor to relieve the gloom. However, the gloom is pervasive for most of its two acts. Director Gary P. Cohen has honestly directed so as not to allow us to put too much hope in the cautiously hopeful ending. Unfortunately, it is not very entertaining to watch Sir mentally batter and abuse the sweetly subservient Cocky for almost the entire evening. The musical hi-jinks do not mask the unpleasantness of the bitterly distasteful situation.
Too often, both music and lyrics fail to fit the mood and situation. The '60s sound here has a generic pop quality. However, it is a pleasure to again hear "Who Can I Turn To?", "The Joker," "A Wonderful Day Like Today." "This Dream" and "Look at that Face" among others. The three piece orchestra led by keyboardist Warren Helms helpfully downplays synthesizer sounds.
The diminutive Julian Brightman delivers a lovingly multi-layered performance. His Cocky, dull and shrinking at the outset, blossoms throughout until he positively glows. Brightman appropriately adapts the Newley accent and intonation (although his notes do not go shrill and thin at the top), but he manages to retain an individuality (he avoids Newley's extreme stylization) which makes his performance his own. I much look forward to seeing more of this fine young actor.
JC Hoyt is smooth and on target as Sir. Hoyt's accomplishment is that he remains likeable while his Sir is not. Megan Bussiere is The Girl who travels as assistant to Sir. Samantha Hahn and Austin Tidwell perform well in smaller roles and Austin Tidwell gets to sing the well known "Feeling Good." The lively, entertaining and energetic Urchins are Laura Chaneski, Rita DeChillo, Tara Deieso, Liz Levin and Meggie Siegrist. Choreographer Michelle Massa has provided the Urchins with quite a bit of entertaining choreography.
As noted, director Gary P. Cohen (well known in New Jersey theatre as the producing director of Edison's Plays-in-the-Park), has directed a clear and clean production which makes an excellent case for the cogency, if not the entertainment quotient, of the book. Cohen has aided himself with an appropriately rickety-looking set nicely lit by Roman Klima.
Given the audience delight occasioned by musical productions, it would appear advantageous for smaller local theatres to include a smaller, vintage musical each season. At least, if they can do them as well as the Bickford Theatre has done The Roar of the Greasepaint, The Smell of the Crowd.
The Roar of the Greasepaint, The Smell of the Crowd will continue performances through May 1, 2005 at the Bickford Theatre at the Morris Museum, 6 Normandy Heights Road at Columbia Turnpike, Morristown, NJ 07960; Box Office: 973-971-3706; online www.bickfordtheatre.org
The Roar of the Greasepaint, The Smell of the Crowd book, music and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley; directed by Gary P. Cohen
Sir .......... JC Hoyt