Review: "The Flamingo Kid" at Hartford Stage

(Photo: T. Charles Erickson)

(Photo: T. Charles Erickson)

  • Tim Leininger, Contributing Critic - Connecticut

Hartford, CT - The time has come to say good bye to arguably the best director in Connecticut as Darko Tresnjak completes his tenure as artistic director of Hartford Stage with his final show, “The Flamingo Kid,” running through June 9.

This new musical with book and lyrics by Robert L. Freedman (“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder”) and music by Scott Frankel (“War Paint”) is an adaptation of the 1984 film starring Matt Dillon and Richard Crenna, and directed by Garry Marshall.

It’s unfortunate that “The Flamingo Kid” is coming out in the wake of so many “teen musicals” like “Dear Evan Hansen,” “Be More Chill,” and “The Prom.” It would be a shame if people think it is just another coming-of-age teen show, especially since it is better than these other shows with the exception of “Be More Chill.” “The Flamingo Kid,” though not perfect, has a lot of great things to offer.

Set in 1963, “The Flamingo Kid” tells the story of Jeffrey Winnick (Jimmy Brewer), a young Jewish man from Brooklyn who is looking to escape his humdrum suburban life.

On the Fourth of July, two friends of his, Hawk (Alex Wyse) and Steve (Ben Fankhauser) convince Jeffrey to take a trip out to Long Island to the El Flamingo Club, a high end beach club, to meet girls and watch some of the card sharks play Gin Rummy.

While there, Jeffrey meets the Gin Rummy champion of the resort, Phil Brody, played to sleazy perfection by Marc Kudisch, and Phil’s niece, Karla Samuels (Samantha Massell), whom Jeffrey immediately falls for, both figuratively and literally.

Jeffrey is captivated by the glitz and glamour of the upper class community, gets a job at the resort, and quickly falls under the wing of Phil, much to the chagrin of his blue collar parents, Ruth (Liz Larsen) and Arthur (Adam Heller).

The story is pretty stock and trade. There aren’t many surprises as to what happens and how the musical plays out, but the journey is thoroughly enjoyable.

“The Flamingo Kid” works best when dealing with class differences and the power that the wealthy can have over people, especially impressionable youth. Phil leads that class difference by subjugating the people around him, particularly through his objectification of the staff and girls roaming around the club.

Sexual predation is a strong theme in the first act, not just men over young women, but also acknowledging that women are not immune to sexually objectifying young men as well. It would have been nice if this became more of a plot point with a resolution, especially regarding Karla.

Early on, Karla is reading Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique.” If she is supposed to be a budding feminist, it would have been nice to see what she is learning pay off between her and her leering Uncle Phil.

Another plot that could use a little more developing is Jeffrey and Arthur. One additional scene in the first act portraying the growing discord between the two would have made the conclusion of act one feel a bit more earned.

Most of Frankel’s music is catchy and memorable. The orchestrations by Bruce Coughlin are fantastic. Coupled with Tresnjak’s direction, little nuances like the use of a salt shaker get ornaments in songs.

Jeffrey and Karla’s duet, “Never Met a Boy Like You,” is a sweet and tender call back to late-50s love ballads and Heller’s performance of “This is My House” is heartbreaking.

The most enjoyable performance, though, goes to Lesli Margherita who plays Phil’s wife, Phyllis, the disenchanted spouse who hates her life and drinks too much. Her song, “The Cookie Crumbles” is terribly cliché riddled but she plays it with such cynicism that she makes it work.

Alexander Dodge ones again proves that he is the best designer in the state with gorgeous, colorful, and decadent set designs for the El Flamingo Club, juxtaposing it with the worn-down, aged feel of the Winnick household.

Linda Cho’s costume designs are brilliantly absurd as she captures some of the outrageous colors and fabrics that make up the social elite of the late-50s/early-60s.

Aaron Rhyne’s projection design is also wonderfully subtle and only draws attention when necessary.

“The Flamingo Kid” isn’t Tresnjak’s best. There are some story points that feel incomplete and can use a little more development, but otherwise, it is an entertaining evening of summer love and musical fun.

The Flamingo Kid

Theater: Hartford Stage

Location: 50 Church St., Hartford

Production: Book & Lyrics by Robert L. Freedman; Music by Scott Frankel; Directed by Darko Tresnjak; Choreographed by Denis Jones; Scenic Design by Alexander Dodge; Costume Design by Linda Cho; Lighting Design by Philip Rosenberg; Sound Design by Peter Hylenski; Projection Design by Aaron Rhyne; Wig & Hair Design by Charles G. LaPointe; Makeup Design by Joya Giambrone; Dance & Vocal Arrangements by Scott Frankel; Music Direction by Thomas Murray; Orchestrations by Bruce Coughlin; Fight Choreography by Thomas Schall

Show times: Evening: Tuesday through Thursday 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday 8 p.m. Matinee: Saturday and Sunday 2 p.m. Sunday, June 9 1 p.m.

Tickets: $25 to $90. Available online at www.hartfordstage.org, by phone at 860-527-5151, or at the box office