“The Flamingo Kid”
Hartford Stage is currently presenting the world premiere production of “The Flamingo Kid,” the bright, big-hearted, if not fully successful new musical, based on the 1984 film of the same name. As written by Robert L. Freedman (book and lyrics) and Scott Frankel (music), “The Flamingo Kid” arrives at Hartford Stage with a gilded pedigree of artists, both onstage and off, and the good news is that this show has a great deal of promise and seems to get better as it goes along. However, to state it outright, it is not quite the knockout sensation “Anastasia” was when Hartford Stage premiered that musical three years ago.
That said, the cast is generally good, with many of the leads even better than that, and the overall production is a pleasure to gaze at, with its sunny vistas of the beach in Long Island, circa 1963. And if Frankel’s tunes are a bit more memorable than Freedman’s book and lyrics (at least, at first), “The Flamingo Kid” fully takes hold by the end of the first act, with a second half that works quite well. Darko Tresnjak is the esteemed director of this enterprise and he certainly keeps the show on the move, with spirited choreography by Denis Jones. Still, if “The Flamingo Kid” at Hartford Stage does indeed score by the conclusion, it really needs more work before it can be considered a full-fledged hit, ready for New York.
To get to what works very well in this show, one only has to see the charismatic lead, Jimmy Brewer, take the stage in the title role of Jeffrey. If this actor didn’t pull off such a triumph with his performance, the whole show would collapse, but Brewer is more than up to the task at hand. Also shining in this company are Liz Larsen and, especially, Adam Heller, as Jeffrey’s parents, and Marc Kudisch certainly has a tailor-made role that he can sink his teeth into, that of big-wig card player and car salesman, Phil. Lesli Margherita is excellent as Kudisch’s wife, and Samantha Massell has a pretty voice and a nice onstage presence in the somewhat underwritten role of Jeffrey’s girlfriend, Karla.
To outline the plot, the show takes place in 1963, in both Brooklyn and Long Island, and concerns the leading character of Jeffrey trying to decide his future, of whether he is going to college or not, in the summer following his graduation from high school. The colorful set by Alexander Dodge and the equally attractive costumes by Lindo Cho capture the time and place extremely well, and the entire show is masterfully lit by lighting designer Philip Rosenberg.
One of the problems of “The Flamingo Kid,” early on in the show, is that it presents a bunch of shiny songs that don’t really advance the plot. Such numbers as “Cabana Boy” and even Marc Kudisch’s “Sweet Ginger Brown” and “The World According to Phil” are delivered with verve onstage without really making a solid impact. It is actually Adam Heller’s stern “This Is My House,” near the end of the first act that first establishes a real conflict in the musical and it is when this show focuses on Jeffrey’s relationship with his parents, that the musical truly takes hold.
Even if the titles of the songs in Act II, such as “Not for All the Money in the World” and “The Cookie Crumbles,” can sound like clichés, the content within the numbers has real significance, helping to strengthen the show overall. And, by the time the musical gets to the tunes, “A Mother Knows” and, even more so, “Fathers and Sons,” it is recommended to get out the tissues. It is ultimately the show’s giant heart and spirit that send the audience out on a high.
Another effective song, the lovely “Under the Stars,” sung by Brewer and Massell, would land even better if Massell’s character of Karla was built-up even more. Not to be forgotten, Alex Wyse and Ben Fankhauser are pretty terrific as Jeffrey’s best friends, and it must be stated again that a great deal of the appeal of this show, and what makes one keep rooting for it to succeed, lies in Jimmy Brewer’s full-out star portrayal.
It would be great to say that Hartford Stage’s “The Flamingo Kid” was ready for Broadway, in the way “Anastasia” was, but the show sags a bit at first and, at least at this stage, doesn’t provide the full-out impact and punch needed to consider it an outright success. Still, there is a great deal of potential in this show, with many good qualities, both onstage and off. It is really when “The Flamingo Kid” reveals its depth of feeling, though, under the gleaming exterior, that the show is fully allowed to make the necessary impact.
“The Flamingo Kid” continues performances at Hartford Stage in Hartford, CT through June 15, 2019. For tickets, please visit www.hartfordstage.org or call the box office at 860-527-5151.
Photo: Jimmy Brewer
Photo by T. Charles Erickson