The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd

My next production, which opens this weekend, is a bit of a labor of love a long time coming. I did this show 22 years ago and always wanted a chance to do it again. The problem is that no one ever does this show. That’s a shame, because there’s there some wonderful material here. Perfect? By no means, but neither is a good chunk of theater that is done constantly, and no others have the gorgeous songs “Who Can I Turn To?” and “Feeling Good” among others.

The story itself is allegory for the British class system, and this is one reason the show is avoided, certainly in the US. People think its politics are outdated. The ideas are absolutely simplified, but the story of Haves and Have-nots, where the ruling class defines rules in order to keep the lower classes in their place, is certainly one I feel is relevant to our current political climate in this country.

In the show, Sir is the Have playing against Cocky the Have-not on a life-size gameboard. The setting is not clearly defined (it’s a barren landscape in the script, and Leslie Bricusse once said the show was supposed to take place in the post-apocalyptic world everyone suspected was coming at the time the show was written in the 60’s). The songs are all fairly liftable, meaning that for the most part they aren’t woven seamlessly into the story as musicals now tend to do it (or try to) and the scenes seem like British music hall comedy routines. It’s a weird and lovely (and very darkly comic) show.

So how would you portray this on a poster? That was my challenge here. The original production simply had a silhouette of Cocky and Sir arguing over a bag. With all due respect to the original designer, I don’t feel this says much about what the audience has in store. The fact that ANTHONY NEWLEY and CYRIL RITCHARD appear over the title probably made the graphic not nearly as important.

For my production though, which I was directing and choreographing as well as performing in (not my original intention — I really wanted to do the show, and no director came forward to apply), I wanted a poster that showed the struggle, but also pulled in the “game” aspect. This was important since my setting was actually to be a toy shop in ruins and I felt there should be some toy aspect on the poster. In addition I wanted to show the struggle between the two characters and, if possible, convey a feeling of circa 1960, but in ruin.

The end result was this:


The photos are all of my hands, actually, and the gamebox is a Dora the Explorer Chutes and Ladders game that I then modified with the new artwork digitally. I tried to use colors that I saw on old games from the 60’s (Life, certainly) along with an appropriate font, and started the game on the box with a mushroom cloud. The taglines I felt added just enough insight into what goes on in the show (playing for bread or love, from birth to death), and the chutes and ladders in the background add some additional texture.

Probably one of my favorite touches, not apparent in this low-res version, is the ring on the finger made from a coin bearing the likeness of Queen Victoria. The raised edges on the ring have dried blood. Like I said, the show is darkly comic, and I felt the violence should be at least subtly represented on the poster.

That’s the poster, now how about a drink? As the cast is mostly underage kids, I wasn’t really inspired to create a whole suite of cocktails (I mean, there’s not going to be a cast party to try them out), but I had to do one, didn’t I? Coming next…

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