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LA Theater Review

The Roar of the Greasepaint--The Smell of the Crowd

Long before bloated European epics such as Les Misérables and Cats invaded Broadway in the 1980s, British librettists-songwriters Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse brought two artful and thought-provoking musicals across the shore. In Stop the WorldI Want to Get Off (1962) and The Roar of the GreasepaintThe Smell of the Crowd (1965), this talented duo melded inspired pop-flavored scores with provocative social satire. Yet these cerebral classics are almost never revived, likely considered not commercial. The normally conservative Downey Civic Light Opera took a huge gamble by tackling the absurdist-tinged Greasepaint, a heady mix of Samuel Beckett and Kander and Ebb. The risk pays off beautifully in DCLO's finest production in years.

Set in an eerie and unspecified location populated by a chorus of street urchins, the abstract allegory follows a series of bizarre games played by the bullying Sir (Stephen Reynolds) and the perpetually acquiescent Cocky (Jeffrey Landman). Is this a sardonic parable of class discrimination, a probing metaphoric glimpse at fascistic governments, a pathologic internal conflict, or something else entirely? When two startling scenes briefly bring in issues of racism and homophobia, one realizes how far ahead of its time this musical was.

Director Marsha Moode elicits stellar results from an exemplary cast, highlighted by the brilliant contributions of Reynolds and Landman. These first-rate song-and-dance men imbue the soaring numbers (especially "Who Can I Turn To" and "A Wonderful Day Like Today") with wide-ranging qualities—from soft-shoe exuberance to heart-wrenching poignancy. Their characterizations are likewise masterfully nuanced, moving well beyond the hero-villain conflict initially set up in the story. Susan Dohan excels as The Kid, Sir's dutiful sidekick, and fine support also comes from Brianne Sanborn, Ronald Holliday Hills, and James Gruessing in crucial roles.

From the first strains of the glorious overture, music director–conductor Steven Dahlke does justice to the wonderful score, and choreographer Brandee Williams stages the numbers with imagination and panache. Kim Killingworth's lighting, Robin Esslinger's wigs and makeup, and the uncredited sets and costumes capture the edgy electricity of the milieu. This offbeat tuner clearly won't be the cup of tea for all CLO enthusiasts; for those who buy into it, however, it's an enthralling and richly rewarding ride.

Presented by Downey Civic Light Opera at the Downey Theatre, 8435 E. Firestone Blvd., Downey. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2:30 p.m. Feb. 23-Mar. 11. (562) 923-1714.

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