Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley's
Bricusse and Newley's musical examines the maintaining of the status quo between the upper and lower classes of British society in the '60s. Cocky always gets the short end of the stick since Sir is always changing the rules of the game of life for the downtrodden young man. The plot seems very naïve in today's world but when it first appeared it was considered radical politics. There is even a hardnosed take on racism when a black man appears.
Greasepaint had a hard road to New York. Bricusse and Newley had a monster hit musical, Stop the World - I Want to Get Off, in 1962. As a follow-up they prepared Greasepaint for a London opening. The show toured the provinces of the U.K., but the English were not interested; it never reached the West End.
David Merrick had seen the musical in Liverpool and loved it. He wanted to bring it to the States so he planned a long pre-Broadway tour that ran for months. A cast album was recorded and released even before the show reached New York. Tony Bennett recorded a pop hit version of "Who Can I Turn To?" and most of the investment was paid back while the show was out of town. It made its New York debut (with Anthony Newley and Cyril Richard) at the Shubert Theatre on May 11, 1965, received mixed reviews and ran only 231 performances.
The Roar of the Greasepaint - the Smell of the Crowd is a primitive musical, more like a British music hall production with sketches on the games played by Sir and Cocky with the latter always losing. This was one of the first musicals built around a concept rather than a story. The score is appealing, with such '60s hits as "A Wonderful Day Like Today," "Who Can I Turn To?" (a big hit for Tony Bennett as listeners believed he was singing about a failed love affair whereas in the musical Cocky sings it as a plea with God) and "Nothing Can Stop Me Now!"
Director Cindy Goldfield has assembled a wonderful cast of adults and children for this engaging musical. Diminutive Kristopher McDowell (who has appeared in solo nightclub acts in New York, Chicago and London's West End) gives a great, smooth performance as Cocky. He has a great cockney accent that is reminiscent of Anthony Newley. His renditions of "The Joker" and "Who Can I Turn To?" are very heartfelt and he leaps into the invigorating "Nothing Can Stop Me Now!"
Craig Jessup (Miss Liberty and for 20 years played cabarets throughout the U.S and Canada) is stunningly good as Sir, a role full of haranguing, browbeating and ill will concealed under a coating of refinement and charisma. His sonorous voice reminds me of the great Cyril Richard in the original production.
Brian Yates Sharber (Minnie's Boys, Hooray for What!) stands out as The Black Man in the upbeat song "Feeling Good." K.S. Haddock (wrote Thanatics that debuted at the Exit Theatre this summer) is effective as the Bully and looks hilarious in a ballet costume in one scene.
Five delightful children play street urchins; they sing and dance with a delightful glee. Caleb Alexander, Jeff Bryant, Brandy Collazo, Molly Anne Coogan and Imani Jade Power are wonderful, with Collazo (Red Hot and Blue) especially good as a ballerina. Petite Anne Donahey as The Kid is enchanting. The twelve year old tot is a natural for the role and she plays it very professionally. There is no precociousness about her.
Cindy Goldfield, who directed and choreographed the dances, shows her skilled hand on this uncommon musical. David Dobrusky once again is first-rate on the piano.
The Roar of the Greasepaint - the Smell of the Crowd plays through December 11th at the Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson Street, San Francisco. For more information and tickets call 415-978-2787 or go to www.42ndstmoon.org.
Their next production will be The Golden Apple opening on March 23 and running through April 9, 2006.