Directed by Tony Award-winner Michael Rupert, The Roar of the Greasepaint — The Smell of the Crowd is a comical, allegorical satire on the British class system of the 1960’s, and is the current offering at Weathervane Playhouse in Akron, OH. The show has Book, Music, and Lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley. Through a series of sketches and songs, usually served up in a style reminiscent of vaudeville, we meet the show’s two central characters: the pompous Sir (Patrick Michael Dukeman), who represents “the Establishment,” and the downtrodden Cocky (Ryan Bergeron), who stands in for “the little guy.” Sir and Cocky meet to play “The Game,” which symbolizes the eternal struggle between “The Haves” and “The Have Nots.” Because Sir changes and manipulates the rules of The Game, Cocky always ends up with the short end of the stick. Sir’s disciple and sidekick, known as The Kid (Kate Klika), is eager to learn from his master while keeping an eye on the upstart Cocky, who desperately wants to beat Sir at The Game. As the mighty battle wages between Sir and Cocky, a group of young children known as the Urchins comments through song and dance (as a sort of Greek chorus). Ultimately, Sir and Cocky are forced to realize that their interdependence is more complicated and thorny — and perhaps more potentially variable — than either “Have” or “Have Not” originally thought. Now celebrating its 50th anniversary, many of the songs from The Roar of the Greasepaint — The Smell of the Crowd have become musical standards: “Who Can I Turn To?,” “The Joker,” “The Beautiful Land,” “A Wonderful Day Like Today” and “Feeling Good” (which was a hit song for both Nina Simone and Michael Bublé).
The first thing I noticed after a lively opening number featuring the cast, was that Dukeman was holding a script. I didn’t learn until later, that he recently joined the cast the week before tech week. I have to say that I was incredibly impressed by Dukeman for diving into the show, and also, doing the show, because he is a delight. He is kind of a combination of Downton Abbey, Harold Hill and the Man in the Chair with control issues. His sparing partner for the evening is Bergeron, who houses a powerful voice, and attitude and sass for days, to the delight of the production. There are many great songs from this show, but when he sings “The Joker”, it is close to perfection. Ashley Bossard at The Girl, brings her own sense of sass to her role, and is a pleasant addition. Kate Kilka kicks some major butt as The Kid. Dynamic diction and great characterization. Will Price as The Bully adds the right amount of feisty-ness to the proceedings. But, the star turn of the night belongs to Marcus Malcolm Martin, as The Outsider. In this darkly directed piece, his solo “Feeling Good” brought down the house. As the Urchins, a fine gaggle of talent is assembled with young fresh faces eagerly taking advantage of their stage time to sing and dance.
My biggest problem with this production comes from how it was directed by Michael Rupert. There is a general air of sadness through this entire piece. First, it doesn’t seem like the Urchins have been given any character development at all. Questions to why they come on, and move off, and their presence seemed to go unanswered. Only when Lora Workman’s choreography takes over, do they come to life. Also, the show itself is literally dark. There are only a few occasions that the stage is lit up, providing glimpses of energy for the cast to bask in. So instead, we are given depressing lighting, and even the color changing specials on the game board don’t register at all. The Girl is dressed and directed like she is from skid row, which makes her payment from Sir odd. After intermission, it was clear that the audience had dwindled. Maybe, that was because of the choice to have every ballad by Sir or Cocky, start by sitting on the stage left footstool. As soon as someone sat there, I thought, ok, cue the ballad. But watching people directed to go back to the footstool before they sang, was incredulous.
My hope with this talented cast, is that when the chains of direction come off, they will blossom and grow and let the buoyancy and fun back into the piece. Hopefully, with more light.
Director Michael Rupert, Choreographer Lora Workman, Musical Director John Ebner, Stage Manager Jill Forster, Lighting Designer Jonathan Hunter, Properties Co-Designers Brianna Machuga and Jordan Priddy, Sound Designer Audrey Fliegel, Costume Designer Jasen J. Smith, Scenic Designer and Technical Director Alan Scott Ferrell (Great set), Assistant Technical Director.
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September 4 – September 21
$7.50-$25 Reserved Seating
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1301 Weathervane Lane
Akron, Ohio 44313
1301 Weathervane Lane
Akron, Ohio 44313