The world-premiere of The Sting opened last weekend at Paper Mill Playhouse. It is based on the 1973 Academy Award winning film of the same name which starred Robert Redford and Paul Newman. After seeing the musical version of The Sting, I can see how the show lends itself into being made into a stage musical. For me, the storyline worked, and although there are a few instances that need some work, I thought on a whole the production of The Sting was stunning onstage. Under the direction of John Rando, The Sting is a dazzling new musical with energetic tap numbers and an amazing cast. This show will definitely keep the audience on their toes as the plot progresses.
One of the things I respected about the show is the way the musical played homage to the movie, especially in regards to the music. The thing I remember most vividly about the movie is the incredible film score that includes several Ragtime compositions by Scott Joplin that were adapted for the movie by Marvin Hamlisch. The stage production is infused with this music and pays homage to it, and does not try to add unnecessary embellishments to these well-known pieces. I applaud Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis who wrote the music and lyrics for the show as well as Harry Connick, Jr. who added additional music and lyrics for the production.
The plot of The Sting tells the tale of two con men, Johnny Hooker and Henry Gondorff. These two men join forces to take down the biggest racketeer in Chicago, Doyle Lonnegan. The musical is action packed, as the story of these two men unfold and tells of the troubles they get themselves in. The book for The Sting is written by Bob Martin. In addition, the amazing choreography is by Warren Carlyle.
The cast of the show are outstanding. J. Harrison Ghee who plays Johnny Hooker steals the stage, and he is a star. I cannot say enough good things about his performance from the moment he steps onstage he shines. I loved him in the number, “The Thrill of the Con” with his vocals and dance number. Also, he is fantastic in the song “I Roll Bones with the Devil.” Ghee gives a solid performance from the beginning to the end of the show, and his performance is stunning. Harry Connick, Jr. portrays Henry Gandorff. Connick, Jr. is an icon and he fits right into this show. I enjoyed his performance immensely, and I especially appreciated that there were many moments where the audience witnesses him playing the piano, and he is masterful. He is amusing in the song, “The Card Game” and his best solo number is “Ain’t Nothin’.” Kate Shindle plays Gandorff’s on-again, off-again girlfriend, Billie. Shindle is a presence onstage, and she brings a solid performance to the role. I thought her best number was “Show Me the Man.” Playing the role of Loretta, a waitress from a local restaurant, is Janet Dacal. Dacal has an outstanding voice and she is wonderful in her eleven o’clock number, “Nighttime is Better.” Peter Benson plays Erie the Kid, one of Hooker’s partners. Benson gives a strong comedic performance and adds levity throughout the show. Tom Hewitt portrays Doyle Lonnegan, the vicious crime boss that Hooker and Gandorff are trying to take down. Hewitt has a great accent and he is imposing onstage. I appreciated his scenes that involved intense frustrations with Ghee and Connick, Jr.’s characters. Rounding out this cast is Kevyn Morrow who portrays Luther, a friend and mentor to Gandorff and Hooker. Morrow gives a magnificent performance. My favorite number in the show is the song, “Confidence.” Both Ghee and Morrow give a delightful performance in this number.
As with any show there are always some things that audience members like and dislike. My criticisms for this show are minimal. However, one of my biggest critiques is about the book. I have huge respect for Bob Martin I find him smart and witty. This show however lacked the wittiness I have come to expect from Martin and in some scenes simply dipped into flatulence humor for a quick laugh. In addition, the original music, although pleasant, lacks pizazz and there is need for a memorable song, aside from Joplin’s classic “The Entertainer,” there is little musically that will stay with you after the performance. I am not sure if this was done to keep focus on the songs by Joplin, but the show would benefit from a little more zing. For example, the songs that the character Loretta sings felt like they were added as an afterthought. Her eleven o’clock number, although beautifully performed by Janet Decal, was unmemorable. All this being said The Sting definitely lends itself to being a musical production, although there are just a few areas that fell flat. Regardless of the elements I felt were lacking, this cast is amazing and they bring incredible energy to the show.
Also I need to mention additional members of the Artistic Team. Beowulf Boritt designed the detailed set. Paul Tazewell created the stunning and period appropriate costumes. Japhy Weideman is the Lighting Designer and Randy Hansen is the Sound Designer. In addition, Fred Lassen serves as the Music Director.
The Sting runs at Paper Mill Playhouse through April 29. 2018. For more information and tickets visit their website at papermill.org or call the box office at (973)376-4343.
Final Thought: The Sting at Paper Mill Playhouse is a dazzling new musical with high energy tap numbers, a beautiful set and outstanding performances by the whole cast, but especially J. Harrison Ghee. The musical pays homage to the 1973 film and respect to the original music. It is an outstanding cast that give powerful performances and it is thrilling to see how the plot unravels.
Kelli Curtin is founding editor and writer for Theatre Sensation. She has maintained a love of the performing arts since a very early age and she is excited to share her passion about theatre and the Arts with her readers. Kelli can be found on Twitter, Facebook and on Instagram.
Photo 1: Photo by Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade; Left: Harry Connick, Jr. (Henry Gondorff); Right: J. Harrison Ghee (Johnny Hooker).
Photo 2: Photo by Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade; Center: Harry Connick, Jr. (Henry Gondorff) and the company of The Sting.
Photo 3: Photo by Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade; Left: Kate Shindle (Billie); Right: Harry Connick, Jr. (Henry Gondorff).
Photo 4: Photo by Jerry Dalia; from left to right: Kevyn Morrow (Luther), J. Harrison Ghee(Johnny Hooker)and Peter Benson (The Erie Kid).
Cover Photo: Left - Photo by Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade; Center: Harry Connick, Jr. (Henry Gondorff) and the company of The Sting. Right - Photo by Jerry Dalia; Center: J. Harrison Ghee (Johnny Hooker) and the company of The Sting.