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Boxing tale hits the ropes after the first act

Review by Paul Nelson

IT WAS 1968 when the Strouse Adams musical Golden Boy was last seen in the West End.

This adaptation of the 1937 play, by the radical Clifford Odets, changed the talented Italian violin player, who swaps his instrument for boxing gloves to a black New Yorker looking for a fast buck, became a vehicle for Sammy Davis Jnr, as a boxer tempted into swapping Harlem for fame, fortune and femmes.

Joe Wellington, a good lightweight boxer, is managed by chancer, Tom Moody, who is hoping this will be his big break.

Tom has an estranged wife and a girl, Lorna Moon. Tom gets Lorna to make a play for Joe to encourage him to work with more dedication.

They fall for each other.

Joe eventually makes it to a level that attracts the big protection rackets, acquires money and eventually is pitted against a big name. During a major theatrical set piece, the boxing match, Joe wins the fight but, unfortunately, kills his opponent.

It is this sea change to Harlem that alters the socialist nature of the play, which is conveniently lost, though the song Don't Forget 127th Street has some lyrics referring to the slum quality of the area that stick to a true line.

This is a New Labour type of musical with Joe selling out his ideals, and at the realisation of the enormity of the death of his opponent, he repents and decides he ain't going down no mo'.

Being in essence a star vehicle, the show needs a star, and though dancer, Jason Pennycooke (pictured), can ply his trade to good effect, he is no singer and, regrettably, no star.

Sally Ann Triplett has to struggle with the unpleasant Lorna and comes out of the encounter with great credit, though it is still a difficult show to sit through when there are so few likeable characters.

The book of the musical still doesn't work, in spite of rewrites by the director, Rick Jacobs, its main flaw being in the hard boiled Lorna Moon, a hard-drinking, chain-smoking boxing promoter's moll who allows herself to cross THAT barrier and fall for the black boxer, only to let him down at the end by marrying Tom.

This act triggers the clappy happy rousing ending to the show.

On the credit side, there is some bright ensemble playing, some excellent dancing from the main troupe, here led admirably by Pennycooke, and a competent and workable set by Richard Aylwin.

Another admirable aspect of the show is the fact that there is no blacksploitation here, a real reason to rejoice.

The blacks are blacks, they revel in it, and their roles, and the overall effect is of exuberance.

It's a joy to see and hear the likes of Alana Maria, Omar F Okai, Neil Johnson and Ray Shell.

The show appears to be doing well so a booking is advisable, though after the first act, it's a sad occasion watching it wither on the vine.

Golden Boy by Clifford Odets and William Gibson, Music by Charles Strouse, Lyrics by Lee Adams, New Book by Rick Jacobs based on the play by Clifford Odets, Designed by Richard Aylwin, Musical Director and Arrangements Steven Edis, Choreographer Mykal Rand, Fight Director Malcolm Ranson, Lighting design Gerry Jenkinson, Sound Design Colin Compost, Costume Supervisor John Hibbs, Press Sarah Mitchell Partnership. WITH: Jason Pennycooke (Joe Wellington), Charlie Folorunsho (Tokio), Nicholas Colicos (Tom Moody), Sally Ann Triplett (Lorna Moon), Omar F Okai (Ronnie Bouvier), Alana Maria (Anna Bouvier), Jade Walker (LaSheequa), Jaye Jacobs (Rhonda), Neil Johnson (Benton Armstrong), Jason Rowe (Lee, Bartender, Fight Announcer), Daniel Louard (Tyrone), Ray Shell (Eddie Satin), Andrew McDonald (Drake, Tommy Driscoll), Tracey Duodo (Marilyn). Produced by Greenwich Theatre Productions at the Greenwich Theatre, Crooms Hill, Greenwich SE10. Tickets 020 8858 7755.

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