Oscar E Moore

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CAGNEY the bio-musical hits and misses at the York Theatre

May 29th, 2015 by Oscar E Moore

Robert Creighton, the star of CAGNEY – an ambitious, superficial biographical musical of the legendary stage and screen star James Cagney – has a fine tenor voice, nimble feet and at times an eerie resemblance to Mr. Cagney but without the “it factor” charisma that made “the tough guy who tapped” exceedingly memorable.

The amiable Mr. Creighton along with his five fellow actors (who portray an assortment of stock characters) work valiantly to make this musical entertaining but get bogged down by the sluggish book by Peter Colley, uninspired direction of Bill Castellino and poor score provided by Christopher McGovern.

Mr. Creighton has provided the music and lyrics to “Falling in Love” – a duet with Willie (Ellen Zolezzi) his soon to be wife that he had met while performing as Lola Fandango in 1923. Along with “How Will I Be Remembered?” and a rousing tap dance off between Bob Hope and Cagney. More on Hope later…

Jack Warner (an excellent Bruce Sabath) may have been a louse but he knew how to make a star out of a no-body. Their relationship was tempestuous to say the least. Two strong headed bucks locking horns. They parted ways often but Cagney always came back to Warner Brothers where he made 28 money making gangster films, famously improvising a button for a scene he filmed with Mae Clark – THE PUBLIC ENEMY – with half a grapefruit smashed in her face.

It is at the 1978 SAG Lifetime Achievement Awards that we see Cagney and Warner reminiscing and then in flashback the hits and misses of Mr. Cagney’s long life.

His Ma (Danette Holden who bears a striking resemblance to a young Jane Curtin) whom he adored and helped financially, his gracious brother Bill (Josh Walden) who produced some of Cagney’s cinematic flops and Bob Hope (Jeremy Benton – a fine singer and dancer who doesn’t look or sound a bit like Hope which is extremely detrimental to the overall production).

Taking a short Act II detour into the assumed political “Commie” proclivities of Cagney is interesting but skimmed over to get to the songs the audience has been eagerly awaiting: The USO Medley with many of Cohan’s greatest all-American toe tapping hits that excel with fine-tuned choreography by Joshua Bergasse.

Bruce Sabath (Jack Warner) has a brief scene as a GI fan come to see Cagney that is extremely touching and overshadows many of the less convincing moments of CAGNEY the musical that runs through June 21st at The York Theatre.

The surrounding walls of the York stage have been covered with the many subdued black and white movie posters of Cagney’s film career. They frame the multi paneled stage designed by James Morgan that allows for some nifty projections by Mark Pirolo and the excellent five member band to play both the hits and misses of the score.

From THE PUBLIC ENEMY to WHITE HEAT and THE SEVEN LITTLE FOYS the hoodlum that would be a hoofer holds court eventually winning an Oscar for YANKEE DOODLE DANDY. Unfortunately CAGNEY doesn’t live up to its legend.

Photos:  Carol Rosegg

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