Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

May 28, 2019

REVIEW: Hartford Stage, The Flamingo Kid

Hartford Stage, Hartford, CT
through June 15, 2019
by Stuart W. Gamble

Lately, there have been a slew Broadway musicals based on films of the 80’s, 90’s, and 00’s (think Pretty Woman, and most recently Mean Girls and Tootsie). Hartford Stage’s latest musical debut is based on a sleeper comedy The Flamingo Kid, which starred Matt Dillon and was directed by Gary Marshall. Judging from the audience’s thunderous curtain call applause, this show could be on its way to Broadway in the future.

Photo by T. Charles Erikson
Set in July, 1963, The Flamingo Kid tells of Jeffrey Winnick (Jimmy Brewer), who along with his buddies bemoan their plight in the opening number “Another Summer Day in Brooklyn”. Soon, Jeffrey finds himself at the exclusive El Flamingo Club, where wealthy Long Islanders play gin, surf, and sunbathe. Jeffrey soon meets card shark Phil Brody (Marc Kudisch) who charms Jeffrey with the jazzy “Sweet Ginger Brown”and “The World According to Phil, Parts 1 & 2”. Jeffrey becomes a cabana boy at the club and romances Phil’s niece, Karla. Conflict arises as Jeffrey’s working class parents, Arthur and Ruth (Adam Heller and Liz Larsen), vie with Phil for Jeffrey’s soul.

The first act of Flamingo Kid is bouncy, effervescent, and colorful, emphasized by Linda Cho’s incredible array of polka-dotted, stripped, floral, neon-colored Havana shirts, skirts, stretch pants, short shorts, halter tops, bikinis, and house dresses and Alexander Dodge’s early 60’s gaudy décor. Humorous songs such as “Cabana Boy” and “A Plumber Knows” add to the soufflé textured tone. Act II, however, offers less gaiety, and three musical reprises. Ruth’s tender “Not For All The Money in The World” and Phyllis’ (Lesli Margherita, Phil’s unhappy wife) Sondheim-ish, vitriolic “The Cookie Crumbles” offer the best musical moments. One might expect that the male leads would carry the show with big, booming, and/or dramatic pieces. This is not the case. The women, sometimes subtly and occasionally overtly, give this new musical texture and depth.

Another question to ask might be, why musicalize this relatively unknown film from 1984? In this writer’s mind, it represents the brief moment of American culture between the doo-wop/Juke Box sound and the soon-to-be onslaught of Beatlemania and hard rock. It also gives its audience an insider’s view of Jewish-American culture, unknown to some, in which white fish salad and latkes with applesauce smack of comfort food.