In 1965, Broadway debuted a new musical about the divergent class system in Britain, the gulf between the have and the have nots. Written by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse, “The Roar of the Greasepaint and the Smell of the Crowd” was not an overwhelming success as a musical but its score went on to become pop standards, hits on everybody’s jukebox list. Rarely seen as a production, the show has been buried in obscurity…until now.
Fast forward five decades and watch actor and director Don Stephenson, with the generous help of choreographer Liza Gennaro, reinvent and reimagine the work. Calling these “glorious melodies” the incentive, the pair conceived an idea on how to remain true to the original script but make it accessible for a new audience.
Back in the day, the show focused on the huge separation between the British classes and created a Game of Life board of colored squares. The characters, mainly Sir, who controlled the pieces and kept changing the rules to guarantee he would win, played against Cocky, who could never succeed in coming out on top. Cocky was the common man, Sir’s servant, the little guy who plays fairly and practically starves to death in the process.
Even when Cocky finally abandons the rules, he discovers he can’t function without Sir and, to win, they must struggle through the game together. Set like a music hall allegory on life, Sir and Cocky have a Greek chorus of urchins, kids who sing and comment about the action. In the new version, Stephenson claims to be “like a kid with an Erector set,” excited to try out new ideas. He is reframing the show with four contemporary characters, Sir, Cocky, a female called The Kid and a Stranger. To Stephenson," there’s a lot of meat on the bone and the deeper you scratch, the more the show has to say, profoundly. This is a dream project and to make the old show brand new is exciting. It’s fun to polish it up.”
To that end, he has assembled an A list of collaborators like set designer Walt Spangler, costume designer Jess Goldstein, lighting designer Stephen Terry, sound designer Jay Hilton, music supervisor Michael O’Flaherty and music director Adam Souza who are “wild and crazy good.” Finding a place to do the show, he thought of Goodspeed Musicals, where he is no stranger having directed "Guys and Dolls” last season. Pitching the idea to Goodspeed’s new Artistic Director Michael Gennaro, after getting permission from Leslie Bricusse the original composer and book writer, Stephenson was delighted to get the green light. This “bold reimagining of the witty and the ridiculous” will star Tony Sheldon as Sir, Michelle Aravena as The Kid, Caesar Samayoa as Cocky and Gregory Treco as The Stranger.
As Stephenson explained, “Goodspeed cultivates new musicals and restates old musicals, so it is the perfect place to do this show.” It will debut at the little Goodspeed, the Terris Theatre in Chester, 33 North Main Street, from Friday, May 20 to Sunday, June 26. For tickets, ($49 and up), call Goodspeed Musicals at 860-873-8668 or go online at www.goodspeed.org. Performances are Wednesday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m, and Sunday at 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.
In the new vision, a catastrophe has taken place and the survivors have no food or water. They want to make a go of it and make the world like it was before, to have it “make sense and be real.” Classic songs like “Who Can I Turn To?,” “Nothing Can Stop Me Now,” ”The Joker,” “Feeling Good,” “A Wonderful Day Like Today” and “Where Would I Be Without You?” will take on new meaning in this novel context where they will be showcased. He describes the orchestrations as “Kurt Cobain unplugged.”
Stephenson wants the audience to invest themselves in the characters and draw their own conclusions to discover who they are and why they do what they do. Ultimately he wants the characters “to resonate” and give the audience a lot to think about as they drive home. The message is to “take care of each other and take care of yourself and acknowledge that hope is the best thing to have. The human spirit can prevail against great odds.” Even though the musical deals with serious topics, Don Stephenson promises that it is a ”funny, funny show.”
Come discover for yourself this “story of hope, where the greatest challenges to capture the humanity of the four flawed characters and highlight the humor in their situation.” You're sure to walk away “Feeling Good."