Book, Music & Lyrics by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse

INFO:

Opened at the Shubert Theatre     May 16, 1965    231 performances
Original Director: Anthony Newley
Original Choreographer: Gillian Lynne
Original Producer: David Merrick
Original Leads: Cocky: Newley    Sir: Cyril Ritchard
Cast Size:  Male: 4    Female: 2    Ensemble: 6-14 women    Total Cast Size: 12 – 20
Orchestra: 17 (Could be done with piano, bass, percussion, 1-2 synths, for 4-5.)
Published Script: None
Production Rights: Tams Witmark
Recordings: The original Broadway, fun, professional, sort of magical, actually.
Film: None.
Other shows by the authors: Stop The World – I Want To Get Off   Bricusse: Victor/Victoria, the films Scrooge, Dr. Doolittle, and Goodbye Mr. Chips
Awards: Nominated for six Tony Awards, didn’t win any.

WHO SHOULD DO THIS SHOW:

The scores the thing, though I think the book could be fun and rewarding with a strong Director. Groups who have a strong, creative and experienced Director might consider this show. The show requires two very strong lead actors. A good show to look at for Dinner Theatre, Little Theatre, Colleges and Universities, stock companies and companies putting a season together, (it’s VERY easy to slip this set and show into a crowded season), and even Regional houses looking for an experimental show to revive and make into a hit.

Be Warned:

The script needs a lot of pointing, of shaping and even a little editing. The show is not for an audience unwilling to do a little bit of thinking.

This show receives very mixed notices from critics. It did in the 60s and it does now, for most productions. I think this happens because the script’s “meaning”, its use of allegory is pushed instead of minimized in importance in favor of the characters and their competition. Again, an inexperienced Director hooked on “making a point” is going to sink this show. The point will be made, the message of this piece is (just a bit too) obvious. A smart Director will really focus on making us care about Cocky, and eventually even Sir, as power slips from his hands and he’s revealed as just another mortal, and an elderly and frail one at that.

THE STORY: (This brief outline is from the liner notes of the original album.)

ACT ONE: Few get out of life everything they desire, yet true contentment lies in the heart, claim the urchins in “A Beautiful Land”.

One who “gets” is Sir, and one who’s always bested is his foil, Cocky, of the “have-nots.” They meet to play “The Game.” They meet in song with Sir describing the joys of being in life’s “driver’s seat.” (“A Wonderful Day Like Today”)

Sir insists that the “haves” must retain their position even if the rules of the game must be constantly changed to accommodate them. Thus Cocky contends with new rules at every turn. The downtrodden need more than hopes and dreams, they also need luck. (“It Isn’t Enough”) Sir outlines the requirements for a gentleman to The Kid. (“Things To Remember”)

Cocky tries again and again, unsuccessfully, to play the game, and with every defeat he must write new, restrictive rules in the book of life. (“Put It In The Book”) Cocky tired of Sir’s commanding role revolts (“With All Due Respect”) and declares that only in dreams do hopes come true. (“This Dream”) Sir reminds Cocky that it is the courage, wisdom and foresight of the “haves” that improves the lot of the “have-nots.” “Where would You Be Without Me”)

Crowned “King” in a mock ceremony Cocky seems to be granted all his heart’s desires including a luscious dream girl. (“My First Love Song”) To coax Cocky to have another “go” at the game, Sir, The Kid and the Urchins deliver a mocking appraisal of Cocky’s dubious qualities (which he takes seriously). (“Look At That Face”)

Just when it appears that Cocky has won the game, Sir takes over and takes the girl. Sir reminds the defeated lover that wealth is the trump card. Cocky laments his role in life. (“The Joker”)

Desperate, Cocky pleads to heaven for aid. (“Who Can I Turn To”)

ACT TWO: The Urchins delight in the advantages of youth. (“That’s What It Is To Be Young”) Cocky, ever rebellious, mockingly appraises Sir’s virtues, praise that Sir (as Cocky had done earlier) accepts in all seriousness. (“What A Man”)

Someone even more downtrodden than Cocky enters to play the game, the Negro. Cocky becomes as overbearing as Sir. The Negro pours out the sadness and heartbreak of his frustration. (“Feelin’ Good”, the song that has had the most life from the show, a gorgeous song.)

Cocky asserts himself more and more with Sir. His demands take Sir by surprise and after doing nothing more than threatening Cocky, he backs down. Reeling with new confidence, Cocky plays the game and wins for the first time. (“Nothing Can Stop Me Now”) Cocky continues to gain confidence. He challenges Sir’s mastery and proposes new rules – his rules – for the game. (“My Way)

But neither Cocky nor Sir can make the grade alone. Finally they reach a kind of understanding as they share the load and head for the future. (“Sweet Beginning”)

THE SONGS:

“The Beautiful Land”, “A Wonderful Day Like Today”, “It Isn’t Enough”, “Things To Remember”, “Put It In The Book”, “With All Due Respect”, “This Dream”, “Where Would You Be Without Me”, “Look At That Face”, “My First Love Song”, “The Joker”, “Who Can I Turn To”, “A Funny Funeral”, “That’s What It Is To Be Young”, “What A Man!”, “Feeling Good”, “Nothing Can Stop Me Now”, “My Way”, “Sweet Beginning”

Hits include “A Wonderful Day Like Today”, “Look At That Face”, “The Joker”, “Who Can I Turn To”, “Feeling Good”, “Nothing Can Stop Me Now” (I have no idea how anyone can listen to the original cast album and not want to do this show.)

MY OPINIONS:

As always, feel free to ignore or skip my opinions and rating. Of course, if you do, don’t be too shocked when the roar you hear is your investors clamoring for their money back, and the smell you smell is your rotten production as it closes. (Okay, that’s laying it on a bit think…)

I love the score to this show. And when I read the script a number of years ago, I found it crisp, clever, fun, and challenging – different from any other show I’d ever looked at. The closest thing to it since its long-ago cup of tea on Broadway is the show Chess. Both are about people playing the game of life, both take place on a game board of sorts. Both have memorable scores. I like both shows quite a bit.

Greasepaint is an example of a “concept musical”, of the sort that Stephen Sondheim and Harold Prince later specialized in, though Greaspeaint has little of the sophistication of a Price-Sondheim show. Nor is it intended to be “sophisticated.” In many ways, I think this is a good and refreshing thing. The show is an investigation into the class system still prevalent in the U.K., and spreading now throughout the English speaking world. (Yes, my fellow Americans, we unfortunately have a class system.) It deals with how the big and powerful control the rules of the game, to the endless diminishing of all others. So it deals with the widening gap between rich and poor, so timely today in the U.S., as well as racism, and other important and related subjects. So the subject of the show is more timely today than ever.

But the method the script uses to tell its tale may be a bit of a struggle for some. It is symbolic, men moving on the game board of life (painted on the stage, perhaps using the entire theatre). And it is presented as if it were a prolonged (very prolonged) English Music Hall skit between two great comic actors. Some critics of this show have carped about the approach – not me. I welcome it! I think the loose construction of story, filled with gags and great songs, is a Director’s dream come true.

This is a show just waiting for a truly gifted Director and two wonderful singing actors to make it absolutely soar. The book could use some trimming, and a bit more humor (which can come out during rehearsals.) It could be sharpened so the conflict is made always apparent, even occasionally oppressive, in performance, and that can be done directorially. But allow me to pen a sacrilege now…I think this show accomplishes everything that Samuel Beckett’s Waiting For Godot claims to accomplish. That’s right. I directed and played a lead in Beckett’s “masterwork” years ago. It was a fun acting exercise, interesting enough, but somewhat excruciating for the audience. It’s not very entertaining in it’s investigation into our limited existence, in its nihilistic way.

But Greasepaint does entertain, as it investigates the human condition. Yes, like Beckett’s play, Greasepaint is a bit pretentious. But I think it’s high-handedness (occasional) can be checked and reversed by a sense that the world is getting away from both protagonists. Poor cast down Cocky knows he has no control over his life, but Sir of the “haves” believes he is in control. Until he’s not anymore. How interesting if the game board on which this play takes place was surrounded by headlines and images covering acts of violence, governmental abuse, of a world gone mad. And these two “actors” of the stage of life play out their charade, believing there is something to be won and something to be lost, that there is a game to be played…when the great world beyond their understanding and view spins on madly without them. And then,. We, the audience, are both Cocky and Sir, and we shall surely root for them to gain some sort of upper hand in life. And when they do finally determine that they need each other…that (to paraphrase another musical) people need people…we will be in their shoes, with our fellow audience members.

And if it were all played in the round, where we could look across the stage and action at other people a lot like us – the very people we need to somehow learn to work with if the whole game is to be survived, much less won? How wonderful would that be? And all with fantastic songs!

Newely and Bricusse prided themselves on their approach to songwriting, one which produced many hit songs in just a few shows. They went for what they called a “Rodgers and Hammerstein bathtub appeal” in their songs, numbers that anyone could sing in the bathtub…and which they would be likely to sing. They succeeded brilliantly with this remarkably memorable, vital score. I really believe there are few Musical Theater scores as energetic, as hummable, as alive as this score.

The book to this show can feel like an excuse to get to the next song. Acted and performed poorly, it will feel as though the actors say some lines, stop, and start to sing, often for reasons that defy explanation. But I believe the authors understood why each song happened where and how they wrote it in the script. The songs are motivated by Cocky’s endless ambition to rise above the muck he was born into, and Sir’s endless ambition to remain atop the crowd And the muck. And always, for both me, and for the urchins who are just pieces moved about in their game, there is the muck below, whispering their names.

I believe a key to getting this show right is focusing as much attention and energy away from the obvious message of the piece, and toward the characters. Casting and direction are going to make or break a production of Greasepaint. Cocky has to be likeable rather than strident, earnest in his willingness to play a game that he at first believes is fair, that he has a chance to win. (The stance we hope all young people have as they start into life.) When he gradually discovers that the game is rigged, then he (and we) can be disappointed. But at the start, the game should be the thing everyone wants, and everyone needs. As they begin play, it should indeed be a “wonderful day.”

Sir’s eventual likeability must be found in the fact that he’s clever, creative, verbally dextrous and admirable…and old. He is hanging on to the cards with hands he can’t stop from shaking, no matter how hard he tries to hide the fact. And his age should become an issue progressively as the “game” (life) continues, leaving him winded at the end of duets with Cocky, if not suffering from some more serious ailment. At the end, playing the game to win may not be an option for the man – remaining in the game at all becomes the challenge, and he needs help to do it, as we all will if we live long enough.

This show has the potential to be as profound (more) as the celebrated plays of a Beckett, while also being funny (which I generally find is not so much with Beckett), and tuneful in the extreme (something no one would accuse Becket of…). Also, comparing this show to Godot, we find that in Beckett’s play, the characters are, they do not evolve or change, and hence, no hope exists. Greasepaint is, for me, a piece with far more theatrical and human potential than Godot. It’s characters do evolve, and find a working compromise at the end. Godot offers nothing in way of hope or a future, Greasepaint offers up the simple (perhaps simplistic) idea that the future can be faced hand in hand. All things considered, I’ll take Greasepaint.

And the idea that the show’s ending should present a highly “guarded optimism,” which many critics have suggested, is poppycock. There must be something at the end that our characters (and audience) can rightly celebrate. The discovery that we do not play the game of life alone is a pretty bloody good reason. And, as is always true in entertainment, the audience should be rewarded for taking that work of art’s journey. This show has been, I believe, shot down by downer presentations of its ending. But the show doesn’t seem to at all call for such an ending! (Or it should be gently edited to allow for a rewarding ending.) An uplifting ending is sitting there waiting for emphasis. And if your production aims for it, with the theme of the entire evening essentially being that we can win the game together, I think the ending will be very uplifting indeed.

Some very wise company and very creative Director is going to have a huge hit someday with this show. That Director will understand that the book does make sense, and that the songs can contribute to the drama, that the darkness of the concept can be lived with thanks to the humor and the score, but that the darkness is, in this case, also necessary. (As El Gallo would say, “Leave the wall, you must always leave the wall.”) Maybe that Director will be you.

MY RATING: * (A better-than-average and interesting show, right for many groups.)

PRODUCTION CONCERNS AND IDEAS:

DIFFICULTY OF MUSIC:

The score is fun, easy to remember and teach. But it takes a lot of energy and precision to play it well. Your Musical Director needs to be a pro, it’s a lot of music. One thing to watch out for – that all the up-tempos don’t assume the same tempo, and all the ballads don’t drag. Things need to keep moving in this show, but with variation. The original orchestrations are lovely and energized.

Cocky – Tenor with some nice, round lower register notes, a clean belt, and ringing high notes, full and supported. Must sing in character, and play drama (even melodrama) and comedy equally well as he sings. A tour-de-force vocally.

Sir – A bass-baritone with a clear mid-register, good execution of lyrics, tireless.

The Kid – Mezzo with a big belt.

The Girl – Soprano with decent mid-range.

The Negro – Baritone with a wonderful, expressive voice.

The Bully – Non-Singing.

Ensemble – All women, some sopranos, some altos, all with a clean clear belt.

DIFFICULTY OF DANCE, CHOREOGRAPHIC CONCERNS:

The two leads sing A LOT in Greasepaint. But the show is visually very simple, and can become monotonous without a lot of movement. The Choreographer is going to be important to the success of any production of Greasepaint. The dance aspects of the show should focus the hard stuff on the Urchins, there precisely for this purpose. They are the colorful window dressing surrounding the central action. And without solos, they can be cast largely for dance skills.

But the leads must dance within their character’s limits. In fact, those limits provide the psychological and physiological framework for their choreography. Cocky is boundlessly optimistic at first – his movement open, expansive, eager, vital. As he is progressively suppressed, so would his movement be, until at the end of Act I, praying to a divine being he cannot be sure exists, perhaps he’s incapable of motion at all.

Sir is also more mobile at the start of the show than at the end. But his age, his body should betray him progressively throughout the game. As Cocky gains strength and resurges during Act II, lifted by success, Sir degrades physically. Perhaps he ends up in a wheelchair at the end, rolled off by Cocky, as they pass together into the sunset. (Or is it a sunrise?) This evolving flexibility and energy in motion is important to the audience’s understanding of the piece, and I believe it should help determine the choreography.

A Choreographer will probably need to stage “The Beautiful Land”, “A Wonderful Day Like Today”, “It Isn’t Enough”, “Put It In The Book”, “With All Due Respect”, “This Dream”, “Where Would You Be Without Me”, “The Joker”, “A Funny Funeral”, “That’s What It Is To Be Young”, “What A Man!”, “Nothing Can Stop Me Now”, “My Way”, and “Sweet Beginning” That’s a lot of numbers! This may be a good show for a Director/Choreographer, if you have a long rehearsal period. If your rehearsal period is on the short end, you will definitely need a separate Choreographer.

Your Choreographer will need some Vaudeville-like, British Music Hall-like chops, as well as more open, jazz-based ability. It would be best if the Choreographer also knew how to build a laugh into movement.

“The Beautiful Land” is life. I think the tempo of this piece could be slowed a bit, made somehow grand and promising. Perhaps the first few lines delivered slowly, piously by The Kid, no irony intended. The “game” is not a bad thing – in fact, it is the only thing a person can do. Yes, the lyric is somewhat ironic later, but I don’t think it should be seen as such at the start. Also, the “beautiful land” is the game board, the stage, the theatre. You could have the Urchins collect up the aisles, and move toward the stage as they sing, entering the game from whatever substance lies outside of it. That would help pull the audience in and get them involved, as if they, too, were meeting on the board.

“A Wonderful Day Like Today” should focus on a few things. Sir, fairly vital, but not young, exuberant at the moment, above the game, a winner. And at the start, everyone does as he demands, including the Urchins, which makes this a wonderful day indeed for Sir. (He could even pay them, which might make it a wonderful day for the Urchins.) You may wish to pull a bit of a “Tab Hunter” (a term I derive from the film version of Damn Yankees, where Hunter stands as everyone else dances around him.) Have everyone dance around Sir as he tosses confetti in the air and sings, or something like that. Pointedly have him allow others to do the hard work of celebrating, while he daintily, aristocratically conserves his limited energy.

“It Isn’t Enough” introduces Cocky in terms of song. It’s a song about doing things, getting involved and committed, of fighting for a desired future. And that’s what Cocky starts out doing. There should be nothing downtrodden this early in the show. Like Sir, he is pleased, perhaps ecstatic, to be playing the game.

“Put It In The Book” revolves around a rather large ledger in which rules for life are added and erased, as the person in charge dictates. It is sung by the Urchins, is a short piece, and introduces the book fully to the audience. It is a central aspect to the game, and should be treated as almost holy by the actors, not tossed irreverently around. It must be seen to have power over their lives, or it has no meaning, and the game itself stops working. The energy of the piece is directed at controlling Cocky, making him do what’s needed in the book. The Urchins might even be envious of Cocky’s proximity to the book, even though Cocky has no control over what goes in.

“With All Due Respect” is an angry piece, as Cocky starts to understand his position. He still has some pride, some sense of his worth here. He is not yet beaten down. There may not be any choreography as such required. But it is confrontational.

“This Dream” can almost be a ballet, a vision of life as Cocky dreams it should be for him, beautiful, fluid, surreal but inviting. A chance to do some interesting choreography.

“Where Would You Be Without Me” is straight vaudeville, upbeat and competitive, and could start to show why Sir needs Cocky and others under him, as the energy required to dance-off with Cocky simply isn’t there for the older man. Hats and canes for this one, probably.

“The Joker” is an aggressive expression of fury and loss, the moment Cocky understands the game is rigged and he absolutely cannot win…that this game is not worth playing for him, and that he’s trapped playing it anyway. Again, this may not require choreography. But he has not given up, yet, he is still angry. It isn’t until “Who Can I Turn To” that Cocky hits bottom, and feels completely helpless.

“That’s What It Is To Be Young” is a bit of a jaunt, a not terribly effective show tune that unfortunately opens Act II. But it is about age, which will be a central theme in Act II, as Sir is overcome finally by the superior energy and youth of Cocky. Perhaps during this number, and behind the man’s back of course, one of the Urchins can imitate an increasingly enfeebled Sir, a precursor to what is to come.

“What A Man!” is Cocky’s first hint of rebellion. The revolution in the making. Sir doesn’t want his flaws pointed out, or even observed. He rules by dint of personality, and perhaps experience, both of which start to fail to impress upon examination. So Sir has a stake in this number – to squelch it, minimize it, negate it. And I believe it would quietly terrify the man.

“Nothing Can Stop Me Now” is the revolution is full effect. Cocky sees the light at the end of the tunnel, and rises in his full and newly (Newley? Okay, sorry…) discovered power. It has some of the energy and open expression of “Wonderful Day Like Today”, with which it essentially shares a structure and tempo. Only now, it’s Cocky celebrating the game and life, as he realizes he can win. Sir would hear the bells of his own funeral underneath this song.

“My Way” takes the revolution further, as Cocky has triumphed and starts to rewrite the book of rules. Both these songs are part of a runaway train, the momentum flipping steadily and with increasing speed toward Cocky and away from Sir. Sir fights with desperation, but hasn’t the energy anymore to resist the inevitable. The movement of this and the last song should forward the idea that the characters and their relationship is evolving.

“Sweet Beginning” is an almost Hegalistic joining of two opposing forces to form a third, stronger than either and more likely to survive the storms of life to follow. It is a triumph that both men can, at least for a moment, share in, though I think it should be clear that Sir is going to be leaving the game entirely to Cocky, soon.

Make sure those Urchins can dance.

CASTING CONCERNS:

Cocky – Energetic, alive, innately likeable. Often cast using a smaller man. Needs titanic energy, a broadly expressive face, voice, and a mime’s ability to communicate ideas without words. Requires a sense of the “common man.” A very demanding role, enormous, many songs and lines. A star. Cast for voice, type, acting, movement. All must be strong. (And I wonder, just a thought, if this role couldn’t be played by a woman, and “The Girl” become “The Man”. Then the message of the show opens up in different ways. Just a thought, not sure it’s worth pursuing.)

Sir – A physically imposing man in his mature years. Needs great energy, an aristocratic air in his movement and voice, all carefully modulated. Cold, calculating, manipulative, accustomed to command. A very demanding role, enormous, many songs and lines. A star. Cast for type, acting, voice, some movement.

The Kid – A young girl (perhaps in her teens-20s), energetic, dressed like a boy. Tough, street-wise, no-nonsense. Cast for dance, voice, type, acting.

The Girl – Drop-dead gorgeous, a man’s dream of femininity. Cast for type, acting.

The Negro – A young Black man, eager, interested at first. Must sing extremely well! Cast for type, voice, acting.

The Bully – A large, muscular, tough, wrestler/weight-lifter type. Cast for type, acting.

Ensemble – All female, all youngish, all boyish in figure, all with belt voices, all able to dance well.

SETS:

There is only one set for Greasepaint. It is a “game board” occupying the floor, and the stage as a whole. It should have levels, so the look and choreography doesn’t flatten out. It should be a creative “game board” – perhaps with parts that Sir can move, reposition, cheat with. The stage should effectively be an open space with levels, and the board occupying it colorfully, intriguingly. The set is, in this case, almost a character in the play, but very inexpensive to execute.

COSTUMES:

Usually the actors are in versions of rags, as if they have recently (or long ago) found themselves homeless. I think there are many other ways to approach the costuming. They are pieces in a curious game, and could be dressed as such. Sir could actually be dressed well, in a vest, a suit, with some not inconsiderable bling like rings and other jewelry (which he gives away during the show to the Kid to earn support and control).

There is only one costume per actor, essentially. Sir and Cocky’s can evolve, however, as Sir deteriorates (a tear in his vest?), and Cocky gains control (and bling?).

Do not dress (or make-up) the Urchins as clowns, or (God forbid) mimes! They are miniature versions of Cocky and Sir, each to a varying degree. I think the Kid should be a Jr. Sir, dressed similarly, but with less class and money behind it. The other Urchins, depending on where they are in the chain of command, or in life, are dressed by degree ever more like Cocky as we descend the social ladder. (And perhaps these sympathize and even root quietly for Cocky?)

Overall a very easy show to costume. Much of this, if not all, will be found in closets, and thrift stores.

PROPS:

The book of life. Hats and canes. A wheelchair for Sir at the end? Flowers for Cocky to give the Girl, perhaps. There’s bound to be more in a show like this, even expendables like confetti. Work closely with your Director, but this should not be a hard job.

LIGHTING:

The show invites a dark, shadowed approach. Don’t go there. If the show deals with a dark, almost defeatist view of life, contradict it (as Brecht might) by making the theatrical aspects of it pop, pushing the energy and the fun of the show front and center. Even consider lowering the grid so the lights are visible to the audience, and a part of the presentation, the “look” of the show. Work closely with your Director to invent a sense of unbounded vitality, deep emotion, and well-lit scenes and numbers. Make the whole thing clearly and undeniably “theater.”

That is not to say there should be no mood changes. Ballads like “This Dream”, and “Who Can I Turn To” need focusing and an intensification of mood. And not everything should “pop” – or nothing will seem to pop at all. But I can’t emphasize too strongly how important your Lighting Designer will be toward making this show rise into a joyous experience, which I believe it must.

By the way, at the end, I’d have all the characters dance off the board, and the lighting focus on the first square of the “game,” inviting the audience to play, then fade to black.

MAKE-UP:

Okay, there will be a temptation to go the Tony Newley-mime route. DON’T! The make-up can be a bit on the fantastic side, with Sir made up at times toward the beginning as a real aristocrat, perhaps even bewigged in a great white powdered thing, with an appropriate mole on his cheek…all of which degrades and goes away in time, revealing a more feeble man with thinning wisps of white hair. This would all be determined with the Director. Could be a challenge!

KEY PERSONNEL (The ones you MUST get right.):

Director, Musical Director, Choreographer, Lighting Designer, Set Designer, Cocky, Sir.

MY THOUGHTS:
I’ve offered an alternate view of this show above, to the approach I believe is generally taken for this show. As I mentioned, I think this show needs very strong direction. I believe with a strong directorial concept that truly supports evolving characters rather than harping on the message, this piece is waiting for triumph.

The show was seen as a “British Music Hall” skit, blown out of all proportion. That isn’t what it is, in my opinion, and it definitely won’t help the show to approach it in that manner. Focus on characters and conflict, and the show becomes very interesting indeed.