BWW Review: THE FLAMINGO KID at Hartford Stage
World premiere musicals don't come around every day, so when given the opportunity to be the first patrons to experience the thrill of a new show, I will always recommend you jump at that chance. Even better when the show is one like Hartford Stage's final production of the season, THE FLAMINGO KID, which also marks the final show for Darko Tresnjak, its award winning artistic director. THE FLAMINGO KID has a lot going for it - the aforementioned direction by Mr. Tresnjak, a score by Tony award winners Robert L. Freedman (Books and Lyrics) and Scott Frankel (Music), a familiar subject matter, a stellar cast, bright and energetic staging, and a story that is simply fun to watch. Suffice to say - THE FLAMINGO KID delivers on all of those in spades and is simply not one to miss.
THE FLAMINGO KID, based on the 1984 coming-of-age film starring Matt Dillon, tells the story of young Brooklynite, Jeffrey Winnick (Jimmy Brewer), who, in the summer of 1963, has just finished high school and finds himself with a job at the El Flamingo beach club on Long Island, a paradise by the shore with everything you would expect from a 1960's beach club - bright colors, patrons lounging by the pool with umbrella drinks, and cabanas for taking a break from the hot New York sun. Jeffrey quickly meets Karla (Samantha Massell) who is visiting her cousin from California and begins to fall for her. Karla's Uncle Phil Brody (Marc Kudisch) and Aunt Phyllis (Lesli Margherita) are members of the club, and Jeffrey soon hits it off with Phil who arranges for Jeffrey to be promoted to cabana boy. Phil is a local celebrity of sorts - first, because he owns a local car dealership, but more so, because of his skill at the high stakes gin game that takes place at the club. Jeffrey is skilled at the game himself, along with his two friends Hawk (Alex Wyse) and Steve (Ben Fankhauser) who are often Jeffrey's "comrades in charms" during their summer exploits. But all is not shiny and fun, for Jeffrey's parents Ruth (Liz Larsen) and Arthur (Adam Heller) aren't too thrilled with Jeffrey's activities, especially since they seem to be steering him away from their goals for his future. Needless to say, over the two and a half hours (with intermission), the audience is treated to numerous dance filled numbers, romantic ups and downs, and a thrilling conclusion that subtly captures the uncertainty, yet hope, of the time.
Robert Freedman's book and lyrics for THE FLAMINGO KID accomplishes the challenging feat of capturing the full story of Jeffrey's exploits on stage (with numerous breaks for song and dance). It moves quickly, but is easy to follow, and develops the main characters enough for the audience to care about their fates. Scott Frankel's music is fresh, exciting, and so much fun to experience. This reviewer was still humming a few different numbers ("The El Flamingo", "The Cookie Crumbles", and "Sweet Ginger Brown" to name a few) for a couple days after viewing, always a great sign for any musical. Darko Trejnak's direction is fluid, fast-paced, and solid. He paints a colorful portrait with the amazing resources at his disposal - a great score and book, a brilliant set, and a cast of amazing actors that bring the story to life.
Speaking of the actors, the cast list reads like a who's who of the biggest names in Broadway, and the performances deliver just as you would expect. In the lead role of Jeffrey, Jimmy Brewer delivers a young man who is eager to grab his future by the tail yet fighting with the reality of his upbringing and his parent's expectations. Speaking of his them, Adam Heller and Liz Larsen are perfect as Jeffrey's very simple, very Jewish parents. They have a number of touching moments together and also deliver some of the emotional high points when Jeffrey's endeavors come to a head. With such a large cast it is hard to note all the noteworthy performances - but in quick succession, here are a few. Lesli Margherita is hilarious as Phyllis Brody and delivers an eleven o'clock number that thrills; Marc Kudisch is gregarious and bold as Phil Brody, who takes Jeffrey under his wing, and gives the production some of its biggest production numbers; Alex Wyse and Ben Fankhauser are great as Jeffrey's friends; Samantha Massell shows off an absolutely breathtaking voice in her numbers; and in a small, but fun part, Gregory Rodriguez, as the lounge singer, Marvin, performs one of the evenings best numbers.
Supporting these amazing performances is a scenic design by Alexander Dodge that takes full advantage of the 1960's aesthetic and the beach club vibe. Linda Cho's costumes are equally groovy, delivering bright floral print after bright floral print that elicited smiles whenever they made an appearance. Kudos on the costumes for the "Alter Kocker Chorus" guys (Steve Routman, Price Waldman, and Michael Hartung), who were great whenever they popped on the scene, but it was their perfectly matched costumes that made their schtick truly hilarious. Denis Jones' choreography was athletic and a thrill to watch, and Lighting (Philip Rosenberg) and Sound (Peter Hylenski) punctuated each performance perfectly. Aaron Rhyne's projections were worthy of note, especially in the "Brooklyn" postcard.
Overall, THE FLAMINGO KID is an exciting and extremely satisfying evening of theatre. It is a thrill to watch, especially knowing you are witnessing the premiere of something that could have a great future ahead of it. Don't miss your chance to see this excellent production at Hartford Stage!
THE FLAMINGO KID runs at Hartford Stage in Hartford, CT through June 9. Hartford Stage is located at 50 Church Street, Hartford, CT 06103. Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8:00 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Weekly schedules vary. For tickets or for more information call 860-527-5151 or visit www.hartfordstage.org.
Mid-Photo 1: The cast of The Flamingo Kid
Bottom Photo: Lesli Margherita