Thursday, November 13, 2014

Review: CTGSC's The Roar of the Greaspaint - The Smell of the Crowd

L-R: Alec Medlock and Sean Smith. Photos by Sherry Linn

Typically, Children’s Theatre Group of Southern California produces shows that feature its young company members who range in age from 8 to 18. Participants in CTGSC’s long-established and well-respected educational program learn the craft of theatre and then put their skills to use by auditioning for mainstage musicals like Godspell, Jr. and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. I had the pleasure of seeing both of those shows previously and they were charming, upbeat, and engaging productions; the kind that put a smile on your face and make you glad you made the effort to go to the theater.  

This time around they tackle something with a little more bite and a lot more social awareness – Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley’s The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd. It’s the second of the duo’s three major collaboration, sandwiched between Stop the World I Want To Get Off and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and the one least familiar. It isn’t often produced, which makes it an interesting choice for a company like this.

Adult actors take on the leading roles but the chorus of Urchins (Lola Michelle Brown, Tess Cooley, Alexa Druyanoff, Langdon Janos, Vera Wheatley) and The Kid (Liam Daniels), are played by the youths. These street kids act as a singing and dancing Greek chorus, always watching the main action and jumping into play when a song calls them forth. They are considerably younger than the original teens who played the roles on Broadway, which gives the piece an interesting twist. Their hopeful smiles and bright-eyed optimism underscore the disparity between the haves and have nots in a way I found extremely intriguing. Kay Cole, who co-directs (with Bonnie Hellman) and does the delightful musical staging, was one of the original Urchins on Broadway. Cole and Hellman handle the story’s unpleasantries with finesse.

[L-R] Front: Lola Michele Brown and Vera Wheatley. Rear: Tess Cooley, 
Liam Daniels, Alec Medlock, Alexa Druyanoff, and Langdon James

Roar of the Greasepaint is an allegorical tale in which two British blokes, Cocky (Alec Medlock) and Sir (Sean Smith), are stuck on an eternal merry-go-round, playing the game of life – literally. Sir always wins and Cocky always loses. That’s because in this game Sir calls all the shots, making the rules and changing them whenever he pleases. His art of manipulation is so well conceived that poor Cocky doesn’t even realize Sir never actually plays the game himself. All he does is set up the rules so that Cocky can never win a round, and thus, can never gain control of the game.

Medlock and Smith are a well matched pair of cultural emblems. Medlock embodies the optimism of the lower class with all its good humor and innocence while Smith’s haughtiness reflects the character of an entitled upper class. Bricusse & Newley’s score favors the common man with their best and most recognizable songs going to Cocky. Medlock’s joy is infectious on the uplifting “A Wonderful Day Like Today,” and there is a genuine camaraderie between him and the urchins, whose cherubic, soot-stained faces beam as they sing and dance alongside him. He is strongest in these upbeat moments, a song and dance man with a Vaudevillian flair for comedy and a self-deprecating charm.

Two other songs will be particularly recognizable: the emotional “Who Can I Turn To?” which has been sung by everyone from Tony Bennett to Sammy Davis, Jr., and one of my favorites, “Feelin’ Good,” recorded by both Nina Simone and Michael Bublé.

Medlock handles the songs nicely, though he has more control over his mid-range than high notes. The sing-song pattern of Smith’s speaking voice becomes appropriately irritating adding a pomposity to Sir that makes it even easier to sympathize with the likable Medlock. Each time he plays the game, it is with a different motivation. First it’s for food, then a job, love, and finally, once he sees an outside player win at the game, to get revenge on Sir.

The dream girl Cocky fancies is Caitlin Gallogly, a waif who ends up being another of Sir’s pawns used to control Cocky. Gallogly keeps it simple, making her brief appearance in the show a moving addition to Cocky’s plight. Her singing is a sheer delight, and the delicacy of her soprano lines float hypnotically over the audience creating a beautiful effect. Scenes with two additional characters who arrive in the second act, The Stranger (Marc Antonio Pritchett) and The Bully (Phil Biedron) become turning points for Cocky as the game starts to spin out of control.

It’s been said that it isnt important whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game. In The Roar of the Greasepaint, The Smell of the Crowd it isn’t about how you play the game because winning is everything. It’s meant to get a rise out of you, and sadly, this story written nearly fifty years ago, is as relevant today as ever. Individuals, corporations, and even countries still overstep their bounds every day, and the truth is, doing the right thing is more of a struggle than ever.

CTGSC steps up its game with this latest production. It offers its young actors and its audience an opportunity for growth by stimulating the kind of critical thinking that only a socially-conscious work of art can. I found myself smiling at their cheerful confidence with the material, inspired by the company’s pluck, and impressed with their desire to stretch beyond what they have tackled previously. This is a successful expression of CTGSC’s bigger commitment and an enjoyable experience from beginning to end.

Alec Medlock and Caitlin Gallogly

L-R: Sean Smith, Marc Antonio Pritchett, and Alec Medlock 


November 1 - 23, 2014
s Theatre Goup of Southern California at
The Eclectic Company Theatre
5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd.
Valley Village, CA 91607
Tickets: $15
(818) 508-3003 or

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