Music by Charles Strouse, Lyrics by Lee Adams, Original Book by Clifford Odets and William Gibson, Director/Librettist Rick Jacobs
It's good to see Greenwich Theatre in full swing again after that depressing period of closure that ended almost four years ago. Since then, things have gone from strength to strength, and when I arrived, a full hour before the performance was due to begin, the atmosphere in the cafe was already buzzing with expectation, and the place felt alive.
For the past three years, work has been underway to get this ambitious production of Golden Boy staged. The relationship between a black man and a white woman is central to the plot, and while this was an explosive (Charles Strouse's own word) element when the musical first appeared in the 1960s (New York in 1964, the London Palladium in 1968), no-one in the predominantly white, middle-class, middle-aged audience seemed to turn a hair in this 2003 revival. In fact, it seemed strange somehow that a show containing predominantly young, black performers didn't attract more of a young, black audience. It was good, though, to see that the theatre was at least three-quarters full on the night I was there.
I was interested to read in the programme about the way in which three young local performers had been selected to take part in this production. Open auditions for 15-18 year olds were held in January; over 200 people responded, and 34 were chosen to take part in a one-week workshop. Then a final round of auditions, with three performers selected to take part in the actual show: Daniel Louard, Tracey Duodu and Jade Walker. All three were thus making their professional debuts here, and all three gave mature and interesting performances.
The staging was imaginative and practical. The central area consisted of a square, white floor, like a boxing ring, with a pole at each corner, and high, baseball court style wire netting with doors for entrances and exits covered the upstage area. For the actual boxing match which forms the climax of the show, ropes were put up and the match itself was done in a very realistic way.
The music was exciting in the big ensemble numbers, where volume, rhythm and harmony predominated. The solo and duet numbers, on the other hand, were not 'show stoppers', but thoughtful reflections on the action. I may be quite wrong, but most of the melodies, lyrical though they were, seemed to rely on high notes and low notes, with nothing much in between, and the only musical phrase that sticks in my mind is the setting of the words "I want to be with you", a recurring motif.
In the 1960s the lead role of Joe Wellington was played by Sammy Davis Jnr. Jason Pennycooke, who plays Joe in this production, is similar in build to Davis, and shares his talent in singing and dancing. Sally Ann Triplett plays opposite him as Lorna Moon, convincingly torn between the white, married boyfriend she feels sorry for and the black boxer she really loves.
In the 1960s production it was probably the 'mixed race' relationship that was the big issue; in this 2003 production I felt that a range of issues came to light, all concerning the individual's need for self-fulfilment, and how divisions in society, whether through race, class, economic status or gender, can still stand in the way.
"Golden Boy" runs until 12th July
Reviewer: Gill Stoker