Review: ‘The Roar of the Greaspaint, The Smell of the Crowd’ at Compass Rose Theater

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The Roar of the Greasepaint, The Smell of the Crowd – A Musical is complex, surreal, and yet a whimsical production currently on stage at Compass Rose Theater in Annapolis. With music, lyrics, and book by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, accomplished Director Lucinda Merry-Browne revives The Roar of the Greasepaint, The Smell of the Crowd, by putting her own signature on it. Jimothy Rogers sits at the grand piano on stage and is the solo Accompanist tickling the ivories with great finesse.

Above: Sarah Makl, Charlize Lefter, and Sarah Grace Clifton as Urchins. Below-Left: Piers Portfolio (Cocky) and Elliott Bales (Sir). Photo courtesy of Compass Rose Theater.
Above: Sarah Makl, Charlize Lefter, and Sarah Grace Clifton as Urchins. Below-Left: Piers Portfolio (Cocky), Elliott Bales (Sir), and Tommy Malek (Kid). Photo courtesy of Compass Rose Theater.

The plotline is updated and some doubly-talented pre-teens/teen have been cast, that brighten the allegorical story. The main theme focuses on status quo between the rich and the poor in society. The rich remain powerful, while manipulating the poor, who struggle playing by the rich people’s rules. (Read the synopsis here).

Sir (Elliott Bales) believes in three simple rules: honesty, integrity, and fair play but lacks value to uphold such character traits. Bales is a wonderful combination of Harvey Korman (The Carol Burnett Show) and Fred Thompson (Law and Order) as his serious approach is presented in a humorous manner. He is a spirited singer in “The Beautiful Land,” accompanied by the urchin girls.

In “A Wonderful Day Like Today,” he meets his opponent Cocky (Piers Portfolio). When paired together, their singing is bold yet their soft-shoe numbers lightens the mood. Unfortunately, Sir reminds Cocky in the song, “Where Would You Be Without Me,” that it is those that “have” that improve the lives of the “have-nots.” Yet Cocky is crowned King in a pretend ceremony, and in “This Dream,” The Girl (a vocally astounding Anna Deblasio) appears before him. He flatters her with “My First Love Song,” then leads her in a beautiful ballet number. Deblasio’s vocals were the highlight of the show for me.

In “Things to Remember,” Sir summarizes the requirements for a gentleman to The Kid (Tommy Malek). This is when tables turn on Cocky, when Sir, The Kid, and The Urchins deliver an insulting judgement of Cocky’s qualities in the “Look At That Face.” Malek convincing shows how he between two societal levels.

It is because of the game that The Girl transforms from waif to woman during the course of the show. Cocky’s love for The Girl is taken away as Sir carries her off and damages her womanly virtues. Cocky laments as “The Joker” and then asks the heavens above, “Who Can I Turn To (When Nobody Needs Me)” and Bales captures the emotional and lamenting of his lonely life.

The urchin girl’s ensemble constantly moves about, from the balcony to the stage, to the short platform, to climbing a column, to hiding under the grand piano proving their youth and agility. It is ironic to find the girls on their tummies, resting on their elbows and their feet kicked up, in such a playful manner while hiding from Sir.

Piers Portfolio (Cocky). Photo courtesy of Compass Rose Theater.
Piers Portfolio (Cocky). Photo courtesy of Compass Rose Theater.

Mitzi (Sarah Grace Clifton) is outstanding and truly talented with both her animated facial expressions and precise dance moves. Though there were strong underlying themes, she managed an exuberant smile and on-point moves. When her character is observing other performances, she would rest her chin in her hand, demonstrating she is contemplating the message.

Cyndi (Charlize Lefler) has angelic facial features and is the quiet one of the ensemble. However, her body language mirrors the mood in certain numbers curling her knees underneath her chin as if she fears what is going on around her. Often times it is when Sir and Cocky are up against each other.

Kay (Sarah Kathryn Makl) is adorable with her bright smile and pigtails as she dances along with her urchin gal pals. At the end of the show, she joins forces with the other urchins, encouraging Cocky and Sir into a “Sweet Beginning.”

Act II opens with the Urchins appreciating their youthfulness in, “That’s What It Is to Be Young.” These talented gals are Cocky’s entourage as they dance, sing, and support his attempts at the game of life. As the storyline progresses with its contemporary political quips (Trump, Clinton, Cruz), Sir proves not to be much of a sir, that includes the arrival of the Foreigner. And what a welcoming surprise it is as The Foreigner (Nygel Robinson) stands up to Sir and Cocky as he blows the roof off with his his delivery of “Feeling Good.” Robinson takes charge on stage and his rich and lush tones fill the room. When he finished his song, for a brief moment, the theater echoed with pure silence.

“Nothing Can Stop Me Now,” is the turning point in the story, when Cocky finally realizes that he can play the game and change it too. He is not obligated to stay down and abide by the rules others have set for him as sung in “My Way.” Finally Cocky and Sir reach a mutual understanding in “Sweet Beginning,” where the gal urchins, join hands with them, the Kid, and The Foreigner and The Girl return.

The set design is very playful where the upstage balcony wraps around 3/4ths of the theater and a gate is incorporated into the balcony railing of which the actors jump down or swing from a rope down to the main stage. There is a large abstract painting made of curlicues in bright colors at the balcony level. The lighting, designed by Kathryn Moncure emphasizes the varying geometrics of the set and quirky costumes.

Costume Designer Renee Vergauwen had the street urchins in mismatched patterns where the gals wore leggings, big tops, and vests. The Kid wore shorts, a t-shirt, tie and a vest as well. Sir is properly dressed in his three piece suit, whereas Cocky looks like he dug his pullover and trousers out of a charity bin. The Foreigner donned an African tunic, cap, and loose pants that are indicative of the character’s nationality.

Left to Right, Anna DeBlasio, Sarah Makl, (Urchins), Piers Portfolio (Cocky), Charlize Lefter and Sarah Grace Clifton (Urchins). Photo courtesy of Compass Rose Theater.
Left to Right, Anna DeBlasio, Sarah Makl, (Urchins), Piers Portfolio (Cocky), Charlize Lefter and Sarah Grace Clifton (Urchins). Photo courtesy of Compass Rose Theater.

Others who contributed to the success of the production are Music Director Anita O’Connor, Elizabeth Spilsbury with her energetic choreography, Joann and Mike Gidos, who delivered the props and Stage Manager Mary Ruth Cowgill.

The Roar of the Greasepaint, The Smell of the Crowd – A Musical, is so spectacular that when it was over…I wanted more. Where were they going? What will be the outcome? Did Sir and Cocky really make amends? Did Sir become more of a “Daddy Warbucks” kind of guy? This show is packed with rich, young talent, along with veteran actors that makes this outstanding production sing and soar. What a terrific ending to a lovely season at Compass Rose!

Running Time: Approximately 2 hours, with one 15-minute intermission.

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The Roar of the Greasepaint, The Smell of the Crowd – A Musical plays through March 8, 2015 at Compass Rose Theater -49 Spa Road, in
Annapolis, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 980-6662, or purchase them online

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1552.gif

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Danielle Angeline
Danielle Angeline was bit by the theater bug when she took a set design class in college. Her instructor reminded her of George Michael (Got to Have Faith). She then decided to major in technical theater and design at Towson State University. After graduating, this led her to work at Universal Studios Florida and the Carnival Cruise Lines as a stage manager, group coordinator and arcade manager. Returning home to Maryland, her career transitioned from CAD work to a technical writer/trainer for the past 15 years. During that time, Danielle volunteered as an Information Specialist with the Smithsonian. Museum assignments included Natural History, Portrait Gallery, and the Castle. She is now pursuing her theatre/arts career again as a writer and dedicating herself to her greatest passions: theatre, writing, family & friends, painting, tasty & innovative cuisine and her cats: Cheyanne and Sierra.