Sunday, April 19, 2009

Florida Stage: CAGNEY! (6 Reviews)

CAGNEY! opened at Florida Stage on March 27. 2009.

Robert Creighton wrote the book with help of Peter Colley.

Christopher McGovern wrote 12 of the shows 18 songs, and you can't do a show about James Cagney without the work of George M. Cohan.

Bill Castellino directs a cast that includes the piece's creator, Robert Creighton, as well as performances by Darrin Baker, Ellen Zollezi, Brian Ogilvie, and Tina Stafford.

The show also featured musical direction by Christopher McGovern, and choreography by Jeff Shade.

Kevin D. Thompson reviewed for the Palm Beach Post:
Cagney! is the brainchild of Robert Creighton, a veteran Broadway actor (The Little Mermaid) who also convincingly plays the wildly energetic Cagney as if he were shot out of a cannon.

Cagney! is also served well by the show's polished five-member ensemble who play multiple roles with ease (Bette Davis, Bob Hope, Cagney's wife, etc.) and who work harder than five James Browns combined under Bill Castellino's sure-footed direction.

... you believe you're watching James Cagney, the quintessential tough man who really only wanted to dance.
Hap Erstein reviewed for the Palm Beach ArtsPaper:
It is hard to say what lies ahead for singer-dancer Robert Creighton, but it seems unlikely he will ever have a part as well suited to his considerable talents as Jimmy Cagney.

That is not to say that Cagney! ... is an entirely successful account of the life and times of the Oscar-winning hoofer and cinematic gangster icon. It struggles to find sufficient drama in Cagney’s climb to stardom, and when it comes up short, the show settles for entertaining songs and tap numbers that add little to the story line.

Although director Bill Castellino has a serviceable cast, none of the other five hard-working performers is on Creighton’s level. I never thought I would suggest this, but perhaps Cagney’s story would be better served by being reconceived as a one-man show.

Cagney! has been long in development and judging from the demand for tickets -- the show is virtually sold out for its run here, through May 3 -- there is significant fascination for the title character. At the moment, Cagney! is diverting enough, but there is a better show lurking within the material that has not yet surfaced.

Still, if you can figure out a way to see it, you are bound to be impressed by Creighton.
Jan Sjostrom reviewed for the Palm Beach Daily News:
Cagney! proves that in the right hands even a guy who's remembered primarily for playing gangsters in the movies can be transmuted into compelling musical theater.

Creighton inhabits the role of Cagney from the first moment he walks on stage with his chin thrust out, his eyes wide and his stance recalling the amateur boxer Cagney was in his youth. Darrin Baker's delightfully ruthless and egotistical Warner provides the foil for the idealistic Cagney.

Cagney! is a shining example of what Florida Stage can do when all the pieces fall into place.
Christine Dolen reviewed for The Herald:
Now getting a world premiere run at Florida Stage, Cagney! has several things going for it, not the least of which is that the audience goes crazy for the show.

Star Robert Creighton, like Cagney a red-haired dynamo of an entertainer, gradually supersedes memories of the real Cagney as the 2 ½-hour musical unfolds. When he tackles the George M. Cohan numbers that helped win Cagney an Oscar for Yankee Doodle Dandy in 1942, Creighton earns every decibel of the crowd's wild cheers and applause.

Director Bill Castellino and choreographer Jeff Shade keep Cagney! moving, though certain moments -- Warner smooching his secretary at the end of a number, a string of insipid jokes, bad impersonations of Bette Davis and Errol Flynn -- drag it down. Not that the audience, thoroughly charmed by Creighton-as-Cagney, gives a hoot.
Mary Damiano reviewed for Miami ArtZine:
...a magnificent musical that is guaranteed to put a great big grin on your face.

Director Bill Castellino keeps the tone frothy but still injects a real sense of urgency to the plot. Part of the fun of Cagney is it staged renditions of famous Cagney film moments from such films as The Public Enemy and White Heat. Those who haven't seen these classics will enjoy the back story of how they came to be, but the movie lovers in the audience will really get a kick out of them because they'll be in on the joke.

Cagney! boasts a talented ensemble cast who each get time to shine.

But the star of Cagney! is Robert Creighton.... Creighton becomes Cagney, so much so that although the musical traces more than 50 years of Cagney's life, no aging make-up is needed.

...magnificent from start to finish. It earns the exclamation point in its title.
John LaRiviere reviews for Talkin' Broadway:
Robert Creighton is simply wonderful as James Cagney. There is enough resemblance between the two men to make the premise work, he has the nimble dancing feet of Cagney, and to be honest—sings better than Cagney ever did.

Stafford gives us a nice turn as Cagney's mother, and Ogilvie as his brother Bill is most likable. Baker's portrayal of Jack Warner is solid, except for the annoying habit of loudly clapping his hands together (or slapping objects down on his desk) every time he makes a declarative statement.
If it's supposed to be annoying, doesn't that mean it works? Just a thought, having once received the same note for a similar choice.
A great deal of work has clearly gone into the original music in the show, as the composers use melodies in counterpoint more than once, and give us fully written harmonic parts. The songs are just not special or memorable enough for the subject matter, and do not seem to spring organically from the scenes in which they are placed. The scenes containing specific bits of film rehearsal and reenactments are interesting and well written, but the script as a whole needs stronger plot points and greater continuity between them. The production is worth seeing for Creighton's performance as Cagney, but the show Cagney! is in need of some work to match the caliber of his performance.
Cagney! runs through May 3, 2009 at Florida Stage.

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