BWW Reviews: THE ROAR OF THE GREASEPAINT - THE SMELL OF THE CROWD, Finborough Theatre, June 22, 2011
The Roar Of The Greasepaint, The Smell Of the Crowd is a parabolic, almost absurdist piece of theatre set in a metaphysical world where its protagonists play "The Game", making "moves" and conducting a series of contests against each other in a comic allegory of the class system. The protagonists are Sir, a portentous individual who is always on the winning side, and Cocky, Sir's meek and unwitting foil, who almost always appears to be on the losing end of the "game". And running through this deliciously funny and absorbing musical is a simply wonderful vintage Leslie Bricusse-Anthony Newley score that boasts a veritable feast of "standards" - including Who Can I Turn To?, The Joker, Feeling Good, On A Wonderful Day Like Today and Nothing's Gonna Stop Me Now.
Despite having made its Broadway bow back in 1965, The Roar Of The Greasepaint has never been staged professionally in London - until receiving its current and premiere staging at the Finborough Theatre. And what a premiere it is!
Ian Judge's beautifully crafted production is a joy to behold. From the first seconds when the small group of Urchins in the show's circus of life sing an invitation to enter the "beautiful land" right up to the final denouement of sweet rebirth, the audience is totally captivated by the magic and sheer theatricality that feasts both their eyes and ears. The totality of the experience is enhanced by Tim Goodchild's cleverly designed circus-cum-board-game based set, Mark Doubleday's atmospheric lighting, Tim Jackson's slick, highly energised choreography and musical director Ross Leadbeater's perfectly balanced and beautifully subtle fingers at the piano.
The ensemble cast (Terry Doe, Jennifer Done, Louisa Maxwell, Beth Morrissey, Tahir Ozkan, Elizabeth Rowden, Tanya Shields, Charlotte Silver, Lucy Watts, Hannah Wilding) deliver flawless and energetically committed performances that never allow the pace of the piece to falter, while singing quite beautifully throughout. Oliver Beamish is a highly effective Sir - mixing the elements of menace and wit with a sense of aplomb. And Matthew Ashforde's performance blends comedy with pathos and makes the downtrodden Cocky a highly appealing character. His rendition of the iconic Who Can I Turn To? is one of the show's most special moments.
On the downside, the piece is perhaps a trifle simplistically naïve - even pretentious - in its exploration of its metaphysical and socio-political themes - a kind of poor man's Becket with songs. But the songs are all knock-out numbers and Judge's reinvention of the show makes it so fresh and enjoyable that any misgivings about the underbelly of the book are swiftly forgotten.
Afficionados of musical theatre and novice fans of the genre should roll the dice, start playing The Game and make their move down to the Finborough to catch this delight of a show while they can.