Review: Broadway Bound CAGNEY at Pioneer Theatre Company is Broadway Ready

By: Sep. 23, 2019
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Review: Broadway Bound CAGNEY at Pioneer Theatre Company is Broadway Ready

The Broadway-bound CAGNEY at Pioneer Theatre Company has a sensational star, a Broadway-ready production, and a fascinating story to tell.

CAGNEY (book by Peter Colley, music and lyrics by Robert Creighton and Christopher McGovern) comes to Utah following several productions in New York, Los Angeles, and elsewhere, including a 15-month-long run Off Broadway. It chronicles the rise to fame of golden age film star James Cagney, from his humble roots in the working class to receiving lifetime achievement honors from the Screen Actors Guild sixty years later. Cagney struggles with being typecast as an action star and fights against unfairness to workers in the studio system and beyond, often finding himself at odds with the head of his studio, Jack Warner.

The book is supremely interesting from beginning to end, proving that truth is often more fascinating than fiction. Although the plot is fictionalized, the creators know how to craft a story for the stage that will resonate with audiences.

The score includes well-known songs by George M. Cohan, including "Grand Old Flag" and "Yankee Doodle Dandy," but it is not a "jukebox" musical. Instead, it is mostly made up of original music that, as pastiche of songs of the period, is a natural fit for the story and setting. The highlight is the lovely "Some Other Guy," and the show would be well served to include another ballad or two in a similar vein.

James Cagney is played by Robert Creighton, who originated the role of Duke Weselton in FROZEN on Broadway. As part of the creative team behind the musical, Creighton has been involved with it every step of the way, and for good reason. He has an impressive range, bringing to the role a fiery passion, an easy rapport, and sensational tap skills.

He is well matched with the suave Darrin Baker as Jack Warner, who is the perfect foil for him. Another high point of the cast is the compelling Charis Leos, who plays Cagney's mother and others.

Additional standouts include Jessica Wockenfuss as Willie and others, Matt Crowle as Bob Hope and others, Robert Anthony Jones as Schlotzki and others, and Daniel Plimpton as Bill and others.

Any adjustments that have been made to expand the show for a larger stage have been successful, as the staging by director Bill Castellino (who has directed a number of world premieres in addition to CAGNEY, including GRUMPY OLD MEN) is crisp, creative, and seamless.

The choreography by the Tony-nominated Joshua Bergasse (ON THE TOWN, GIGI), who won an Emmy for his choreography on NBC's SMASH, is tight and effervescent. The entertaining tap numbers, in particular, are endlessly watchable.

The costume design by the Tony-nominated Gregory Gale (ROCK OF AGES, THE WEDDING SINGER) is masterful, nailing every decade the story zips through from the 1910s to the 1970s. From everyday wear to shimmering patriotic performances, the costume changes are nonstop and often nearly instantaneous.

The sleek and bold scenic design by James Noone (JEKYLL & HYDE, LADY DAY AT EMERSON'S BAR AND GRILL) creates a variety of surfaces for the cavalcade of storytelling projections by Brad Peterson (CATS revival, FISH IN THE DARK). The lighting design by Paul Miller (LEGALLY BLONDE, AMAZING GRACE) is equally as fitting and polished.

CAGNEY is nothing like anything currently on Broadway. Whether this will prove to be a help or a hindrance on its path there remains to be seen, but it is certainly ready to try.

CAGNEY plays through October 5, 2019. For tickets, call the box office at 801-581-6961 or visit

Photo Credit: CAGNEY cast.


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