A wonderful play like this play

The Roar of the Greasepaint -- The Smell of the Crowd

By Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley
Directed and choreographed by Thomas Mills
Musicals Tonight!
Mainstage at the 14th Street Y
344 East 14th St. (362-5620)
Equity showcase (closes Dec. 22)
Review by Elias Stimac

This show may have a big title, but it deserves it -- because The Roar of the Greasepaint -- The Smell of the Crowd is a musical that is filled with big songs, big ideas, and bigger-than-life characters.

Director-choreographer Thomas Mills transformed this '60s classic into a timeless fable of friendship, hardship, and one-upmanship. Taking place on a colorful gameboard stage designed by Drake Andrews, Katie Plybon, and Mark Symczak, the action centers on Sir (George S. Irving) and Cocky (David Edwards) as they play a battle of wits, maneuvering and mistreating each other every step of the way. For most of the game, Sir has control, forcing Cocky to grovel and grouse with outrageous rules and cheating tactics. Both emerge from the mental competition a bit battered and beaten, but a lot wiser as well.

This intellectual musical is a cross between Waiting for Godot and The Fantasticks, with a Greek chorus of female urchins thrown in for good measure. Mills mixed these eclectic influences into a devilishly fun concoction, and musical director Barbara Anselmi (who also served as vocal arranger) kept everything pitch-perfect and sounding wonderful.

Speaking of wonderful, the songs by author-composers Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley included familiar hits such as "A Wonderful Day Like Today," "Where Would You Be Without Me?" and "Who Can I Turn To?" Each song sounded fresh and vibrant, and propelled the action forward while reflecting on what has just happened.

The real stars of this Greasepaint, however, were its cast. Sharing the spotlight together and seizing it individually, the incomparable Irving and the ingratiating Edwards played opposite characters in every sense of the word, who by the end of the evening seemed a lot similar than one might think. Both played their characters to the hilt, with energy and enthusiasm, and both reveled in the intricate wordplay offered by the writers.

Strong in support were Leslie Ann Hendricks, Mamie Parris, and Drake Andrews as the quirky characters the two encounter along their journey. Most notable was Jimmy Rivers, who delivered the show-stopping "Feeling Good" and proved himself a star-in-the-making.

And what would this show be without the adorable urchins. This ensemble of actresses is on during most of the show, sings most of the songs, and provides many of the laughs. The talented troupe featured Amy Epstein, Lauren Lebowitz, Adrienne Pisoni, Sandie Rosa, Jennifer L. Rose, Margie Stokley, and Heather Stone.

Finally, solid marks are to be given to the technical team, including lighting designer Shih-hui Wu, casting director Stephen DeAngelis, production manager Katie Plybon, and producer Mel Miller. Musicals Tonight! Is dedicated to reviving musical shows, and future productions include The New Yorkers, My Favorite Year, and Lady, Be Good! If they're anything like Roar of the Greasepaint, all we can say is, "Keep 'em coming, Mel!"

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Sets: 1
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2002 Elias Stimac