The Flamingo Kid – Review by Dave Rosenberg

It was said about TV’s “Seinfeld” that it was a show about nothing. That wasn’t quite true, of course, but the label stuck. Now it may be said, too, about “The Flamingo Kid,” having its world premiere at Hartford Stage, unless you count familiar tropes about father-son conflicts and coming-of-age. Musicalizing the 1984 film that starred Matt Dillon as a teen on the cusp of manhood, the stage transformation is good-natured and lively but bland and uninvolving.

Staged by Darko Tresnjak, Hartford’s artistic director’s farewell production obviously has its eye on Broadway, following the path of the theater’s “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” and “Anastasia.” Whether the lightweight “Flamingo” can make it in New York is problematical, although it looks expensive. Alexander Dodge’s scenic design, Philip Rosenberg’s lighting, Linda Cho’s costumes, Peter Hylenski’s sound and Aaron Rhyne’s projection design are top-notch.

Jeffrey Winnick (Jimmy Brewer) is a Jewish teen living in Brooklyn with his working-class plumber father Arthur (Adam Heller) and sympathetic mother Ruth (Liz Larsen). Friends take Jimmy to El Flamingo, a Long Island resort where he eventually works as, first, a parking attendant, then a cabana boy, earning big tips from admiring yentas and putting his gin rummy skills to gainful use. (The club was founded by and for Jews since other such clubs were restricted.)

Jimmy falls for the angelic Karla Samuels (Samantha Massell), visiting from California and staying with gin rummy champ, the big shot Phil Brody (Mark Kudisch), his bored wife Phyllis (Lesli Margherita) and their daughter Joyce (Lindsey Brett Carothers).

Jeffrey, in thrall to Phil, is tempted by an offer to become a salesman at Phil’s car dealership. Pitting his new-found hero against his hard-working father also allows Jeffrey a Hobson’s Choice between becoming a ladder-climbing salesman or college student.

Jimmy Brewer’s Jeffrey is attractive though neither sensuous nor dangerous. As Karla, the laid-back Samantha Massell finds the character’s pragmatic approach to life, while Lesli Margherita is a hoot as Phyllis and Marc Kudisch hams it up as husband Phil. Omar Lopez-Cepero is very funny as an egotistical rhumba instructor, with Adam Heller and Liz Larsen adding gravitas as Jeffrey’s parents. His angry “This is My House” and her plaintive “A Mother Knows” are highlights.

With book and lyrics by Robert L. Freedman and music by Scott Frankel, “The Flamingo Kid” ambles its way through the two-and-a-half hour evening. Both Tresnjak’s direction and Denis Jones’ choreography are zestful. Many numbers hit their targets: “Another Summer Day is Brooklyn,” “Never Met a Boy Like You,” “Rockaway Rhumba” and “The Cookie Crumbles” in particular.

Yet, despite glancing mentions of “The Feminine Mystique” and the Cuban missile crisis, the show is stubbornly insular, safe and rather pointless.