“Secondhand Lions” Musical: A LW Review

Starla Smith, a longtime friend of LemonWade, went to the opening of a new Broadway-bound musical, “Secondhand Lions,” Thursday night at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre. She filed this report: Based on a 2003 movie about a boy sent to live with his eccentric uncles, the production blends old MGM musicals, comic book caricatures and “Kismet” run amok with a dash of Texas inhospitality. The musical has potential, but changes need to be made before the show tackles the Great White Way. The production strays a bit from the film. You still have the two irascible uncles, Hub and Garth, with their shotguns, their great nephew Walter and his trash-talking mama Mae. But the elderly lion is gone; so are the obnoxious relatives. Instead, a precocious neighbor girl named Jane has been added.

Despite its satirical rhetoric, Rupert Holmes’ book needs tightening–please lose the preachy message at the end. The score by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner has a couple of stand-out songs, and others with clever lyrics and some delightful production numbers, but you probably won’t leave the theater humming the melodies. And director Scott Schwartz needs to pick up the pace in the farm scenes. He could also cut one of Walter’s numbers.

Although Greg Edelman and Mark Jacoby both have fine singing voices and oodles of Broadway credits, their acting could use more oomph. Of course, for those who have seen the film, the images of Robert Duvall and Michael Caine are hard to forget.

Jacoby’s words, as cranky Hub, may be curmudgeonly, but his overall performance falls short. His adventurous spirit may have turned sour, but Hub should still have a spark. Edelman fares better as Hub’s brother Garth, but his portrayal needs more warmth. The kids, Johnny Rabe as Walter, and Sophia Anne Caruso as Jane, can belt out a song, but at times their voices turn shrill.

The most delightful performance comes from Jason Danieley as the Sultan. The musical comes alive when he’s onstage. The scenes in his palace are by far the best in the entire show. Harem girls in colorful costumes take over the set with their undulating bodies. Cossack dancers do their routine, and palace guards prance about. Danieley is hilarious as he sings, dances and cavorts. Plus his fast-paced, tongue-twisting patter song would have Gilbert and Sullivan atwitter. As young Hub, Kevin Earley makes a dashing hero, as he rescues cheeky Princess Samira, played Jenny Powers. With his rich baritone and her beautiful soprano, their love duet soars through the theater as a classic 11 o’clock number.

The ramshackle farmhouse set swivels from outside to inside. There’s a pump outside that actually works and a suggestion of a barn. The Sultan’s palace dazzles with scrims of bright fabrics and hues, while his attire suggests a comic-book couture of leather and silk. Neither Jacoby nor Edelman looks comfortable in their too-new overhauls, which could use a few faded patches. Their fake grey hair has been plastered to their heads—too many dabs of Brylcreem. Simira’s outfits may sparkle, but her clingy, see-through garb (obviously designed to show off her body) needs alternations. She’s not a stripper; she’s a princess. But the slit in the front of her ensemble goes up to the crotch, prompting the query: Is the apex a shadow–or the real thing?

On opening night, the 5th Ave audience gave the show a standing ovation, but they always do. Jason Danieley deserved his cheers. There’s nothing secondhand about him.

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