The impossibly talented Darko Tresnjak who, for the past 8 years as its Artistic Director, has led Hartford Stage to several milestones of Connecticut theatre, is closing out his tenure with a world premiere musical, “The Flamingo Kid”. Tresnjak’s work has included this season’s brilliant new play, “The Engagement Party” as well as previous Broadway-bound musicals, “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” and “Anastasia” among many other successes.
Based on the likable 1984 film by director/writer Garry Marshal with writer Neal Marshall and starring a charismatic Matt Dillon in the title role, “The Flamingo Kid” isn’t really a film that was screaming out to become a musical. Still, Broadway is littered with movies-to-musicals lately with “Pretty Woman”, “Mean Girls”, “Tootsie” and, God help us, even “King Kong” currently taking up real estate on the Great White Way. Familiar titles more than likely just sell more tickets. Give me “Dear Evan Hansen” or “Hadestown”!
“The Flamingo Kid” is a coming-of-age story set in the summer of 1963 about Jeffrey (Jimmy Brewer), a smart Jewish Brooklyn kid who is the son of working class parents: Arthur (Adam Heller), a plumber and housewife Ruth (Liz Larsen). Arthur has college plans for his son but before that happens, Jeffrey takes a summer job at a swanky private club in Long Island called the El Flamingo. It’s there he catches the eye of high-end automobile salesman Phil Brody (Marc Kudisch) who takes him under his wing with promises of better jobs down the line. There’s a girlfriend to distract Jeffrey (Samantha Massell), but “The Flamingo Kid” is really the story of whether he will choose to listen to his father or this flashy new father figure. Is there ever any doubt?
There’s a general lack of suspense in “The Flamingo Kid” even if you haven’t seen the movie. Tresnak has produced a highly polished, slick production with no expense spared but for what purpose? There is absolutely nothing about this particular story that is assisted by the addition of music, especially a score as generic as the one provided by Robert L. Freedman (music) and Scott Frankel (book and lyrics). This includes giving the wonderful Adam Heller, who was a splendid Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof” a few years back at Goodspeed Musicals, two interchangeable songs in the first act; one about being a plumber and the other about being king of his house.
In addition to Heller, the numerous Broadway pros featured in “The Flamingo Kid” cannot be faulted. They include Kudisch, who seems to be having a ball playing Brody as a flamboyant alpha male, Larsen as Jeffrey’s ever-patient and loving mother and especially Lesli Margherita as Brody’s amusingly cynical wife. As for the lead performance, Brewer sings fine and is appealingly bland without ever standing out from every other actor his age on stage. There is simply no compelling reason to watch him in this musical.
Unlike the film, there is little sexual daring on display and the creative team hasn’t had nearly as much fun with the period as earlier shows like “Grease” or “Hairspray” had. The musical clearly has an abundance of talent both on stage and behind-the-scenes, but they all have little to work with and this remains the primary problem with “The Flamingo Kid”. If there are plans for a Broadway transfer, there is still plenty of work to be done.
“The Flamingo Kid” has been extended a week at Hartford Stage through June 15. For further information or ticket reservations call the theatre box office at: 860.527.5151 or visit: www.hartfordstage.org.
Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: email@example.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.