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
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.