Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires

The Flamingo Kid
Hartford Stage
Review by Fred Sokol | Season Schedule

Also see Fred's review of Hold These Truths


Jimmy Brewer and Adam Heller
Photo by T. Charles Erickson
In a world premiere production at Hartford Stage through June 15th, The Flamingo Kid shines through music composed by Scott Frankel, with book and lyrics provided by Robert L. Freedman. The songs carry this show, directed by Darko Tresnjak. As he concludes his artistic leadership at Hartford Stage, Tresnjak once again brings forth a high-caliber, large cast show. It's a lovely presentation.

Based on the feature film by the same name, the musical opens in Brooklyn in 1963. Jeffrey Winnick (Jimmy Brewer) is stuck at home with his parents, and his prospects seem predetermined. He will go to Brooklyn College in the fall. Period. His mother Ruth (Liz Larsen) is, compared to her husband, open minded. Arthur Winnick (Adam Heller), Jeffrey's father, is a plumber, a conventionalist—loving but not relishing other, more progressives views of life.

Soon enough, Jeffrey gets a job parking cars (then graduating to cabana boy status) at a Long Island beach club and acquaints himself with Karla Samuels (Samantha Massell). She is from California, at the club for the summer, and she is smart. Physically attractive to be sure, Karla breaks the dumb and ditzy stereotype. While her written role could be larger, Massell makes the most of her opportunities to portray a young woman who is both perceptive and understanding.

Loudmouth Phil Brody (Marc Kudisch) likes gambling and women. He is magnetic, for better or worse, and Jeffrey is taken in for quite some time. Phil is uncle and his wife Phyllis (Lesli Margherita) aunt to Karla. Phyllis is influential and, by way of her second act song "The Cookie Crumbles," she speaks truth to her niece.

Jeffrey and his best friends Hawk (Alex Wyse) and Steve (Ben Frankhauser) are given three-part harmony opportunities which are splendid and delightful—production highlights.

Thanks to Alexander Dodge's set choices, the setting looks like the early 1960s and so it evokes that era. The Brooklyn apartment, complete with archaic-looking yet suitable period appliances, yields to the breezy, snappy Rockaway beach club. Women there, as costumed by Linda Cho, wear somewhat revealing yet not racy outfits. Choreographer Denis Jones spices up the proceedings on "Rockaway Rhumba" and other large company numbers.

The main theme of The Flamingo Kid revolves around the tension Jeffrey and his father face. Arthur loves his son, wants only the best, but is decidedly old-school. The coming of age adolescent is taken by swift talking, automobile salesman Phil Brody. Jeffrey has already rejected his father's summer notion that the boy work in an accountant's office. Now, too, there's Karla, the dreamy girl.

Adam Heller, a skilled, persuasive actor who has many New York and regional theater credits, is a precise fit for Arthur. He never wavers and holds his character throughout. Jimmy Brewer appeared in Goodspeed Musicals' A Connecticut Christmas Carol several months ago, and on television's "Fosse/Verdon." As Jeffrey, his voice is sweet and his presence should amplify as this production evolves. Supportive performances by Marc Kudisch as Phil Brody and Lesli Margherita as his wife Phyllis are strong ones. Liz Larsen's Ruth Winnick hopes for less stressful times.

The Flamingo Kid succeeds handsomely through its songs. The first act's "Another Summer Day In Brooklyn," "The El Flamingo," "A Plumber Knows," "Sweet Ginger Brown" all catch attention. After intermission, "In It to Win It," "My Son, the Big Shot," "The Cookie Crumbles," a reprise of "Sweet Ginger Brown," and "Fathers and Sons" are cumulatively pleasing. The distinctive score drives the entire evening. Freedman's book is true to the time period, complete with cliches and some lines of dialogue which, given contemporary awareness, certain viewers will find outdated if not sexist. Other theatergoers will be more tolerant. Decide for yourself.

This is a brand new show filled with oodles of zip and a fair portion of compassion, too. Characters are familiar but, within the context of The Flamingo Kid, they are also crisp and fresh. Tresnjak directs with skill and provides room for an eager, top-flight cast to flourish.

The Flamingo Kid, through June 15, 2019, at Hartford Stage, 50 Church St., Hartford CT. For tickets, call 860-527-5151 or visit hartfordstage.org.


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