“The Sting”: The con is on!

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"The Sting" at Paper Mill Playhouse. Photo by Jerry Dalia

It’s nothing new for stage musicals to be made out of well-remembered movies. The Sting, now making its world premiere at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn. It is a rare musical based on a well-remembered movie that is as good as, if not better than, its source. If you can get a ticket you’re a lucky stiff.

The book by Tony Award-winner Bob Martin (The Drowsy Chaperone), the score by Tony Award-winners Mark Hollmann & Greg Kotis (Urinetown), and the additional music and lyrics by star Harry Connick, Jr. blend together in a delicious concoction. It expertly retains the original story while expanding on the roles of several supporting characters, providing additional depth and adding a touch of romance the movie lacked. You may think you know all about The Sting, but its new musical version will be a delightful surprise.

"The Sting" at Paper Mill Playhouse. Photo by Jerry Dalia
“The Sting” at Paper Mill Playhouse. Photo by
Jerry Dalia
Harry Connick Jr. is the drawing card of this production

Harry Connick, Jr. is a force of nature as a performer. His portrayal as master con artist Henry Gondorff threatens to blow the roof off the theatre. It’s not unfair to say that Connick is the drawing card of this production. However, Connick is matched by relative newcomer J. Harrison Ghee as cocky young conman Johnny Hooker. Ghee’s astonishing performance is every bit as powerful in a star role that showcases his many talents. He is a performer to watch for in future shows.

The rest of the supporting cast is equally powerful. Kate Shindle’s Billie is one smart cookie, tough or tender as the situation demands. Tom Hewitt makes a formidable presence as the evil, vengeful Doyle Lonnegan. Peter Benson mines comedic gold in his role as the not too bright but loyal and earnest Erie Kid. Janet Dacal, as down-on-her-luck waitress Loretta, creates a character of volcanic passions hidden beneath a world-weary shell.

"The Sting" at Paper Mill Playhouse. Photo by Jerry Dalia
“The Sting” at Paper Mill Playhouse. Photo by
Jerry Dalia

Fine work is also provided by Christopher Gurr and Richard Kline as two of Gondorff’s old companions in con artistry, Robert Wuhl as the corrupt Lt. Snyder, Michael Fatica as Lonnegan’s henchman Floyd, and Drew McVety as FBI Agent Polk. Finally, Kevyn Morrow as elder conman Luther gets the show off to a joyously rousing start with “You Can’t Trust Nobody,” setting the tone for the show surrounded by the outstanding ensemble.

The Sting! includes many solid ensemble numbers 

The Hollmann/Kotis/Connick score is a fine addition to the musical comedy songbook. Aside from “You Can’t Trust Nobody,” there are solid ensemble numbers like “We’re Back,” “The Thrill of the Con,” “This Ain’t No Song and Dance,” and “The Chase,” an exciting dance number where Hooker is hunted through the streets of Chicago. “I Roll Bones with the Devil” balances Hooker’s need for revenge with the knowledge that one tiny slip means death.

"The Sting" at Paper Mill Playhouse. Photo by Jerry Dalia
“The Sting” at Paper Mill Playhouse. Photo by
Jerry Dalia

The con artistry of Billie and the Erie Kid is displayed to hilarious effect in “Show Me the Man.” A more romantic note, not really expressed in the movie version, is provided by Billie’s “Sometimes” and Gondorff’s “Tough Guy.” And the ballet accompanying Loretta and Hooker’s duet “Nighttime Is Better” shows a more earthy side of love.

Finally, three songs expertly portray the three stages of the con: “The Card Game,” which takes place on a long-distance train; “The First Race,” which closes the first act; and “The Second Race,” in which the con comes to its climax.

Tony-Award winning director John Rando, who also helmed Paper Mill’s earlier hit musical The Honeymooners, has with choreographer Warren Carlyle brought out the best in the talented cast. Beowulf Borrit’s clever set design captures the sense of place in each scene; watch for his visually startling uses of an outdoor staircase and a series of apartment doors. Paul Tazewell’s costumes run the gamut of 1930’s Chicago from the drabbest of Depression-era clothes to the swank of the “patrons” of Gondorff’s betting parlor to the working clothes of the “working girls.”

A phrase I don’t use often about a show is “hock your grandmother to get tickets.”  The Sting is one of those rare shows. A quirky caper comedy with a wonderful blues-tinged, jazzy score, this delightful production will be around for only a limited run in Millburn.  Hurry to get your tickets now for the Paper Mill Playhouse’s world-premiere production of The Sting!

The Sting is presented by the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn through April 29, 2018. For tickets and information, visit papermill.org