×

Connecticut Theater Review: ‘The Flamingo Kid’

Cool cars, period detail and some clever humor are not enough for this coming-of-age musical to be more than meh.

With:
Jimmy Brewer, Adam Heller, Marc Kudisch, Liz Larsen, Lesli Margherita, Samantha Massell, Lindsey Brett Carothers, Ben Fankhauser, Alex Wyse, Ben Bogen, Michael Hartung, Jean Kauffman, Ken Krugman, Omar Lopez-Cepero, Anna Noble, Erin Leigh Peck, Steve Routman, William Squier, Kathy Voytko, Price Waldman, Kelli Youngman, Stuart Zagnit, Gregory Rodriguez, Taylor Lloyd, Jayke Workman.

2 hours 30 minutes

Snazzy vintage cars, fun ’60s fashion and cool mid-century designs make for some neat eye candy in Hartford Stage’s world premiere of the musical “The Flamingo Kid.” But nostalgia can only take you so far in a show that’s thin on character, thick with clichés, and full of — to borrow one of the script’s plentiful Yiddish words — schmaltz.

Though the musical — based on the 1984 coming-of-age film set during the summer of ’63 — has some playful music and dances, an often buoyant spirit and a colorful pastel palette, the overall effect is as predictable as a beach read. Its story, characters and conflicts are, at least at this stage of the show’s development, all too familiar.

In a coming-of-age narrative that echoes the father-son-mentor triangle in “A Bronx Tale,” this outer-borough story centers on Jeffrey Winnick (Jimmy Brewer), an 18-year-old Brooklyn teen who gets a summer job first as a parking lot attendant, then later as a cabana boy, at El Flamingo, a posh private Long Island resort catering to upwardly mobile Jews.

Soon he is drifting away from his working class parents as he becomes beguiled by gin-rummy-playing card sharp Phil Brody (Marc Kudisch), who takes the kid under his wing and introduces him to a life of fast cars, swank living and easy money. A special nod here should go to the quartet of car chassis built by BB Props/Emiliano Peres. Indeed, the show’s design elements, especially Alexander Dodge’s aquamarine-wave sets and Linda Cho’s witty nouveau-riche costumes, are retro delights.

Popular on Variety

Jeffrey’s parents Arthur and Rose (Liz Larsen and Adam Heller, solid and authentic) are, of course, concerned about their son’s changing attitude and values. That’s especially true of his father, who becomes outraged when Jeffrey decides to nix college to work for Phil as a salesman at his high-end car dealership. But after money is gambled and lost, hearts are hurt and promises broken, Jeffrey, in the end, learns the difference between what is taken and what is earned.

The score by composer Scott Frankel (“Grey Gardens,” “War Paint”) and lyricist Robert L. Freedman (“A Gentleman’s Guide To Love and Murder”) encompasses several pleasant pastiche songs and some clever rhymes (“menopausal/schlemazel”), but lacks the kind of memorable numbers that make a show soar. Denis Jones’ choreography, meanwhile, provides some casual summer fun with an amusing cabana sequence, plus one for the resort’s rhumba competition.

But when the show tries to get serious, it feels awkward, strained or (like many of the song titles) just too on-the-nose, whether it’s Jeffrey’s father singing “This Is My House” or “My Son, The Big Shot” or the male Winnicks singing the treacly closing number “Fathers and Sons.”

Freedman’s script flirts with issues of class, culture and consumerism, but Philip Roth it ain’t, and “The Flamingo Kid” doesn’t go much beyond sentimentality, caricature or reductivism. An attempt to suddenly become sociologically profound at show’s end, with television news clips noting America’s post-assassination “loss of innocence,” is cringe-worthy.

Outgoing artistic director Darko Tresnjak, who deftly staged “Gentleman’s Guide” and “Anastasia,” hasn’t yet found the right balance for this show as it careens from broad comedy to angst-filled kitchen-sink drama to musical corn. What it lacks now is any kind of edge or nuance to distinguish itself.

As Jeffrey, newbie Brewer — he graduated from Carnegie Mellon last year — is likable and sings okay, and he nicely reflects Jeffrey’s combination of intelligence, gawkiness and eagerness to please. He doesn’t balk at showing the boy’s selfish side, too.

Also standing out is Lesli Margherita as Phyllis, Phil’s long-suffering snob of a wife, who gets every laugh effortlessly with her deadpan delivery. She also nails her second act number, a good song with a terrible title using period slang that was tired even then (“That’s the Way The Cookie Crumbles”). As Phil, meanwhile, Kudisch’s usually fine comic touch is exchanged here for the broad and boisterous, which undercuts Jeffrey’s attraction to Phil’s B.S.

As for Jeffrey’s friends and Phil’s gin-rummy mates, there’s little in terms of character for most of these actors to play. But it needn’t be that way. Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple” showed that card players don’t always have to be anonymous, that wing men can indeed stand out and that, in the end, the delights are in the details.

Connecticut Theater Review: 'The Flamingo Kid'

Hartford Stage; 533 seats: $90 top. Reviewed, opened, May 24, 2019. Running time: 2 HOURS, 30 MINS.

Production: A Hartford Stage presentation with special arrangement with Robert Israel, Larry Hirschhorn, and Cody Lassen and Broadway & Vine of a musical in two acts with music by Scott Frankel; book and lyrics by Robert L. Freedman; based on the motion picture “The Flamingo Kid,” screenplay by Neal Marshall and Garry Marshall, story by Neal Marshall, produced by ABC Motion pictures.

Creative: Directed by Darko Tresnjak; choreography, Denis Jones; sets, Alexander Dodge; costumes, Linda Cho; lighting, Philip Rosenberg; sound, Peter Hylenski; projections, Aaron Rhyne; orchestrations, Bruce Coughlin; music direction, Thomas Murray; production stage manager, Linda Marvel; production manager, Bryan T. Holcombe.

Cast: Jimmy Brewer, Adam Heller, Marc Kudisch, Liz Larsen, Lesli Margherita, Samantha Massell, Lindsey Brett Carothers, Ben Fankhauser, Alex Wyse, Ben Bogen, Michael Hartung, Jean Kauffman, Ken Krugman, Omar Lopez-Cepero, Anna Noble, Erin Leigh Peck, Steve Routman, William Squier, Kathy Voytko, Price Waldman, Kelli Youngman, Stuart Zagnit, Gregory Rodriguez, Taylor Lloyd, Jayke Workman.

More Legit

  • Protesters demonstrate at the Broadway opening

    'West Side Story' Broadway Opening Night Sparks Protests

    Roughly 100 protestors gathered outside the Broadway premiere of “West Side Story” on Thursday night, carrying placards and chanting in unison to demand the removal of cast member Amar Ramasar. “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Ramasar has got to go,” they cried while holding signs that read “Keep predators off the stage,” “Sexual predators shouldn’t get [...]

  • West Side Story review

    'West Side Story': Theater Review

    Whittled down to one hour and forty-five minutes, “West Side Story” – with book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and choreography by Jerome Robbins — has grown exceedingly dark and mislaid some of its moving parts in the new Broadway revival from edgy Belgian director Ivo Van Hove. (Can [...]

  • The Inheritance review

    'The Inheritance' Closing in March After Box Office Struggles

    “The Inheritance,” a sprawling and ambitious epic that grappled with the legacy of the AIDS epidemic, will close on March 15. The two-part play has struggled mightily at the box office despite receiving strong reviews. Last week, it grossed $345,984, or 52% of its capacity, a dispiriting number for a show that was reported to [...]

  • MCC theater presents 'Alice By Heart'

    Steven Sater on Adapting 'Alice by Heart' From a Musical to a Book

    When producers approached lyricist Steven Sater (“Spring Awakening”) to adapt Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” into a musical, his initial reaction was to recoil. His initial thought was that the book didn’t have a beginning, middle and an ending. But Sater pulled it off with his production of “Alice By Heart.” After an off-Broadway [...]

  • The Lehman Trilogy review

    Sam Mendes' 'Lehman Trilogy' Kicks off Ahmanson's New Season

    Sam Mendes’ “The Lehman Trilogy,” which took London’s West End by storm will be part of the Ahmanson’s lineup for the 2020-21 season. It will be joined by Broadway hits “Hadestown” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Artistic director Michael Ritchie announced the season that will also feature four fan favorites and another production to be [...]

  • Zoe Caldwell Dead

    Zoe Caldwell, Four-Time Tony Winner, Dies at 86

    Zoe Caldwell, an Australian actress with a talent for illuminating the human side of imposing icons such as Cleopatra and Maria Callas in a career that netted her four Tony Awards, died on Sunday due to complications from Parkinson’s disease, according to her son Charlie Whitehead. She was 86. Caldwell occasionally appeared in television and [...]

  • Cambodian Rock Band interview

    Listen: How 'Cambodian Rock Band' Became One of the Most Produced Plays in the U.S.

    One of the hottest trends in American theater this season is Cambodian surf rock from the 1970s — and that’s thanks to “Cambodian Rock Band.” Listen to this week’s Stagecraft podcast below: Playwright Lauren Yee’s genre-bending stage show, part family drama and part rock concert, has become one of the most-produced plays in the U.S. this season. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content