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The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd

THE BASICS:  This Leslie Bricusse/Anthony Newley musical from 1964, a tuneful allegory about the haves and have-nots, is getting a rare revival at the Lancaster Opera House, weekends through April 22nd.  Merete Muenter directs a cast of nine.  ROAR, with its single intermission, runs nearly 2 ½ hours.

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  The wealthy, aristocratic Sir and the impoverished, downtrodden Cocky play The Game over and over, always with the same result.  Cocky simply cannot win; the  domineering Sir is forever changing the rules, sometimes even inventing new ones to confound his hapless “friend”. Cocky looks to lady luck, in vain.  He daydreams an ideal mate; Sir despoils her.  The sudden arrival of a new player, a black man, shifts the dynamics, and leads to a somewhat hopeful ending.

THE PLAY, THE PLAYERS AND THE PRODUCTION:  ROAR OF THE GREASEPAINT was the follow-up to the Bricusse/Newley hit, STOP THE WORLD, I WANT TO GET OFF, with the ultra-talented Newley writing himself a starring role in both.  The original cast album of ROAR was very popular; I remember playing it over and over as a teen.  I never did get to see the show at that time, however, and was most interested in seeing how it looks more than fifty years later.

The score is pretty much of a killer (always was), chock full of peppy and melodious songs.

The answer: only so-so.  The streamlined, allegorical format that probably felt adventurous at the time seems tame, dated now.  The score is pretty much of a killer (always was), chock full of peppy and melodious songs.  The lyrics are more problematic; some retain wit, others seem peculiar or just plain dopey.  The opening ballad, “The Beautiful Land”, while charming, has a Zenlike message that doesn’t jibe at all with the tale of class struggle that ensues.  The nonsense of “Things To Remember” felt pointless, unfunny, and the totally irrelevant “That’s What It Is To Be Young” could be (and should have been) eliminated altogether.  The play’s book is extremely skimpy, doing next to nothing to clarify or amplify what little there is of plot.  The basic Sir/Cocky interaction is established at once, then repeated over and over again.  When important changes finally do occur, in the second act, they come on abruptly, and are less than fully convincing. Others, I’m sure, will disagree.  A couple of ladies seated nearby me were clearly tearing up at the end.  I myself was struck with how we seem to have gone backward, in terms of income, race and other inequalities, since the turbulent but more hopeful 60’s, when the piece was penned.

Now for the good news:  The Opera House people have clearly lavished time and attention on ROAR, and the mounting is, on the whole, a very good one.  David Bondrow and Stan Klimecko are (let’s face it) no Anthony Newley and Cyril Ritchard, but they are solid and pretty satisfying as Cocky and Sir.  Bondrow, who is a bit meaty for the emaciated Cocky, is in very good form here, belting out “Who Can I Turn To?” with genuine passion.  The whole cast is A-1 from a vocal viewpoint.  Kudos in particular to Meghan Cobham, Heather Reed and Valerie Stevens, who, as the Urchins (a sort of playful Greek Chorus), deliver up their bouncy songs in tight three part harmony.  They also give good “face”.  The obvious female-ness of the Urchins, and also of Stevie Jackson, who plays Sir’s protégé, the Kid, does give these characters a peculiar, androgynous quality, but this is not a serious problem.  Emily Yancey charms briefly, with “My First Love Song”.  And Lorenzo Shawn Parnell, as The Negro, rocks the house with his booming baritone in “Feeling Good”.

Interpolated video clips from director Muenter slow down what is already a long evening, and give us an alcoholic angle on Cocky that I for one could do without. The musical ensemble, in the balcony and directed by Fran Landis, was clearly up to the task; the musicians never drowned out the lyrics, as happens all to frequently in musical productions of all stripes.  It would certainly help if the up-tempo numbers get speedier.  And the show as a whole could use a good pruning…

While it’s often tempting to dismiss the LOH as community theater, production values here are generally high.  A special shout-out to David Dwyer for his nice, clean, laddered set, and to Nicholas Quinn for some fine special lighting.

IN SUM:  An fascinating curio from the 60’s gets the “A” treatment from the Opera House.  The score is still terrific, and the vocalists shine, but the show’s overall length and repetitive quality are definite drawbacks.

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

Written by Grant Golden

Grant Golden

GRANT GOLDEN wears a number of hats. He has been practicing radiology in Buffalo since 1981, for the past 15 years, with Seton Imaging. Dr Laszlo Tabar, internationally famous mammographer, has been his special friend and mentor.

Grant began The Old Chestnut Film Society, Buffalo’s only film society, in 1983. Now in its 35th consecutive season, the OCFS does monthly screenings of Hollywood classics in 16mm.

He has written the scores (and some of the books) for a number of locally produced musicals, including the old WONDERMAKERS shows, THE OTHER ISLAND, NOBODY’S INN (Alleyway Theatre), IZZY! (Musicalfare), and ME II (Western Door Playhouse). He reviewed local plays on the radio for 20 years--on WBEN and WBFO—before making the switch to BuffaloRising.

Grant and his lovely wife Deborah live in Central Park with their dog Ginger, and cats Ella and Felix. They have three adult children, and now, happily, two grandchildren!

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