LANDMARK MUSICAL THEATRE COMBINES A SMALL TALENTED CAST TO STAGE THIS ANTHONY NEWLEY CLASSIC ‘ROAR OF THE GREASEPAINT’
Cocky and Sir bring an enthusiastic edge to The Roar of The Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd a 1965 Broadway musical by the team of Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley. Now on stage at the Exit Theatre and produced by Landmark Musical Theatre through May 27th. Briusse and Newley collaborated on the music, lyrics and book, and Newley was also the star on Broadway: It is certain no other musical checks all those boxes. It is thought of as a British musical, but GREASEPAINT was a surprise bomb in England, never making it to the London West End despite the fact that Bricusse & Newley were coming off their 1962 hit Stop the World – I Want to Get Off and producer David Merrick was still the king of Broadway after his success with Hello Dolly.
The talented Newley and Bricusse wrote and inspired 22 pop-flavored songs with social satire. But GREASEPAINT is rarely staged or revived, due to its non commercial success. So it is a great pleasure that LMT Artistic director Jonathan Rosen and producer Steve Brownfield took a gamble by tackling the absurdist Godot GREASEPAINT, a pop mix of Samuel Beckett and Kander & Ebb. The risk pays off beautifully and is LMT’s finest production to date - with a small talented cast that includes a high school actor who commands the stage in the Anthony Newley role as Cocky. Presented at the smaller black box venue of the Exit Theatre and its colorful tenderloin community, that only adds to the edgy nature of this lost musical.
This is a quirky tale of life played out in an unspecified location inhabited by a chorus of street urchins, the concept allegory follows a series of twisted games played by the bullying Sir played by the dapper Scott Ayres and the perpetually passive Cocky played by the charming talented Julian O’Byrne. In this parable of class discrimination, it is a probing metaphoric glimpse at lost governments, the story at times does not accomplish much. The cast includes three enduring Urchins that keep the theme moving and Cocky in his place.
The welcome news about this production is that it not only has a singer, actor/comic up to challenge of Cocky, it has excellent performers in all the roles, especially when they are singing. O’Byran as Cocky has the young vocal chops to hit the notes that Newley’s voice shook to death in the more than a dozen songs he is featured in. O’Bryrne was impressive in some of the scores classic tunes: “This Dream”, “The Joker”, and “My Way” - his voice still needs some classic training but he held this role and his future on Bay Area stages will be strong Rosen choice to cast a teen to play Cocky brings a innocent limber, funny and lovable hero. In the role of, Sir, local favorite Ayres seems like a cross between Zero Mostel with a touch of Fagin. He has a strong voice and is both physically imposing and winsome especially in his well-execited solo “Things To Remember”.
As the Kid, Sir’s side kick, the marvelous Heather Steffen did fine in a role written for an abrasive, androgynous young woman; she opens the second act of this two hour show with “A Funny Funeral” along with the other two company and greek chorus Dian Meechai and Amanda Nguyen. The sympathetic Meechai also plays “The Girl”, normally a thankless role, she is both lovely enough to be a plausible “dream girl” and has a rich, expressive singing voice and is perfect with O’Byrne in “My First Love Song”. Singing the show-stopping “Feelin’Good” and knocking it out of the park is the powerhouse Juanita Harris as “The Stranger”. Harris also endures some the scripts worse moments as Bricusse book explores racism with some uncomfortable “you people” lines. Yet Harris is the highlight of the evening and blows the stage door open with the classic song.
This is a flawed musical with a story that isn’t really needed the songs hold their own, and if a company is going to succeed with it, the problems cooked into the book have to be dealt with boldly. Rosen and his musical director Brian Allan Hobbs have created an easy fun GREASEPAINT to follow - even if many of the characters are unlikable. Hobbs keeps his small cast pitch perfect while his back stage two person band sometimes overpowers the company but has an excellent sound - with percussion and many adoring sound effects by Lily Sevier.
The lighting for the subtext of the story needs to be very colorful and bright, and Rosen who also is a craft master and created the lighting design. The set by Clay David and Matthew James includes some risers and cut outs, but the clever props by David fit this GREASEPAINT world with clown props, trunks and whistles. Richard Gutierrez bright costumes bring that 60’s summer of love feel, but Cocky in his finger cut gloves and adorable red bollar fit the bill for the classic “Look At That Face” number that charmed the full audience crowd. Deb Leamy choreography keeps the vaudeville feel to many of Cocky’s and Sir’s duets including “Where Would You Be Without Me”. Leamy kept the Kid and Urchins moving in and around the Exit Theatre small black box Venue and stages the numbers with imagination. Rosen made great use of the smaller venue and the more intimate version of this musical.
This offbeat musical is an enthralling and richly rewarding ride. At the end of the show the antagonist’s roles have reversed, symbolized by Sir carrying the pair’s baggage. But before they walk off into the sunset, Cocky relieves Sir of part of his burden, sharing the load, and showing us almost a happy ending of hope: they are finally equals. The Roar of The Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd is worth watching the game they play, and that means that it’s worth seeing. Next up at Landmark Musical Theatre will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Summer of Love, with a revived production of HAIR. Artistic Director Jon Rosen will direct and present the musical at the Great Star Theatre that opens this August.
Landmark Musicals Theatre Presents
The Roar of the Greasepaint
The Smell of the Crowd .
Music and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley .
Directed by Jonathan F. Rosen
Music Director Brian Allan Hobbs,
Choreography by Deb Leamy
Must close May 27, 2017,
The Exit Theatre,
156 Eddy Street, San Francisco.
Call for tickets at www.landmarkmusicals.com.