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

A veneer of cutie-pie innocence tap-dances over a caustic political message

Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley's quirky critique of the class system is in many ways a morality play disguised as a musical. Cocky, a down-on-his-luck Everyman, finds himself perpetually stuck playing a strange game that he can never hope to win against the oppressive oligarch Sir. Alternately groveling and sulking while Sir makes up the rules to suit his whims, Cocky sees his fortunes begin to change only when another character, the Black Man -- more deus ex machina than character, really -- demonstrates a new way to play the game and win. Written in the early 1960s, the play carries a revolutionary premise that feels a little dated. But the music and lyrics are as explosive today as they ever were. The troupe's cast of adorable urchins (the youngest of which is third-grader Caleb Alexander) expertly creates a veneer of cutie-pie innocence that playfully tap-dances over the caustic political message. Craig Jessup and Kristopher McDowell contrast each other strongly as the toffee-nosed Sir and the pauperly Cocky, respectively. However, the performer with the smallest role, Brian Yates Sharber, makes the biggest roar. Appearing in just one short scene as the Black Man, Sharber delivers a heart-stopping solo on "Feeling Good" (a song made famous by Nina Simone) that is the emotional center of the piece.

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