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05/02/2019 12:01 AM

Hartford Stage Bets On Flamingo Kid

Set rendering of The Flamingo Kid Photo courtesy of Alexander Dodge

There’s a lot at stake for the world premiere of The Flamingo Kid, the new musical receiving its world premiere at Hartford Stage, with previews beginning Thursday, May 9, an opening night set for Friday, May 24, and a run that will continue through Tuesday, June 9.

As in any new musical, there are a lot of resources (including money) riding on its success locally. There also is the desire that future productions will bring a return on the special investment for the not-for-profit theater—as well as its for-profit commercial producers.

This will be Hartford Stage’s third new musical with commercial attachment and an eye on Broadway at the Tony Award-winning regional theater. They were all staged by Darko Tresnjak, the theater’s outgoing artistic director. The first was A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder, which opened in 2012 and eventually moved on to Broadway earning Tony Awards for best musical, book, and costumes and one for Tresnjak as director.

Anastasia had its premiere at the theater three years ago before having a two-year run on Broadway. It’s now on a national tour—coming to Hartford’s Bushnell running Jan. 14 to 19—as well as having separate international productions. Hartford Stage’s royalties from the shows, due to its participation in the musicals’ development, have returned around $500,000 to the theater over the years, according to former managing director Michael Stotts.

There is a bittersweet element to the production of The Flamingo Kid in that it marks the final production of Tresnjak in his role of artistic director after eight years in that leadership role.

Melia Bensussen, the theater’s first female artistic director, takes over in that position next month. The 2019-’20 season, in which she had minor participation, begins in September. The first full season she’ll claim as her own will be the 2020-’21 season.

For Flamingo Kid, Tresnjak is reunited with his Gentleman’s Guide team of set designer Alexander Dodge, costumer Linda Cho, lighting desisgner Philip Rosenberg, projection designer Aaron Rhyne, and book writer and lyricist Robert L. Freedman. Music is by Scott Frankel (Grey Gardens, War Paint.)

As for The Flamingo Kid, the musical is based on a film, not unlike many aspiring musicals these days, through this 1984 movie doesn’t have the high profile name of a Pretty Woman or Beetlejuice, the cult following of Anastasia or Mean Girls or even the special effects marketing hook of a King Kong.

It’s a sweet little coming-of-age film, directed by the late Garry Marshall (who also directed the film Pretty Woman), and co-written by Marshall, Neal Marshall, and Bo Goldman. The film starred Matt Dillon as Jeffrey Winnick, a youth from a working class Brooklyn neighborhood who just graduated high school and is unsure of his future.

During the summer of ‘63, Jeffrey gets a job at a Long Island country club and falls under the wing of charismatic gambler Phil Brody, played by Richard Crenna, much to the dismay of Jeffrey’s father, played by Hector Elizondo. He rises from parking lot attendant, to pool boy, to become a card shark, just like his mentor. Torn between two worlds—education and work, or easy living—he comes to terms with his future.

“It’s funny and heartbreaking,” says Jimmy Brewer who plays Jeffrey.

Brewer, who just happens to have been born and raised in Bayshore, Long Island, was in his final year at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University last year when he auditioned and got the title role. Also featured in the cast are multiple Tony Award-winner Marc Kudisch, Lesli Margherita, Adam Heller, Liz Larsen, and Samantha Massell.

Speaking of Flamingos

And speaking of flamingos, as in the cult film Pink Flamingos, its wickedy funny/trashy director John Waters will be bringing his show This Filthy World: An Evening with John Waters to Hartford’s Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art on June 29 at 6 p.m., followed by his 2000 film Cecil B. Demented.

Frank Rizzo is a freelance journalist who lives in New Haven and New York City. He has been writing about theater and the arts in Connecticut for nearly 40 years.

Jimmy Brewer, who plays Jeffrey in The Flamingo Kid Photo courtesy of The Hartford Stage
Lesli Margherita, who plays Phyllis in The Flamingo Kid Photo courtesy of Hartford Stage
Samantha Massell, who plays Carla in The Flamingo Kid Photo courtesy of Hartford Stage
Adam Heller, who plays Arthur in The Flamingo Kid Photo courtesy of Hartford Stage
Marc Kudisch, who lays Phil in The Flamingo Kid Photo courtesy of Hartford Stage
Liz Larsen, who plays Ruth in The Flamingo Kid Photo courtesy of Hartford Stage