By 1958, the swashbuckling stardom that the Australian-born Errol Flynn had attained in the 1930’s, with Captain Blood and The Adventures of Robin Hood had long since waned. Instead of being on Hollywood soundstages, he was in Cuba filming a self-produced B picture, Cuban Rebel Girls.
There he met and was impressed by the revolutionary Fidel Castro. Flynn became an ardent admirer of his, speaking out on his behalf and writing newspaper columns in support of him in The Untied States. He eventually soured on Castro and died son after in October 1959 at the age of 50.
Boyd Anderson and Guy Anderson’s wayward book uses these historical facts to weave a fitfully compelling scenario. The weary Flynn meets the fiery, young Cuban woman, Lola in a nightclub. There are romantic sparks and he follows her into the wilderness. She has been romantically involved with Castro, and she introduces the two. They hit it off and Castro fantastically wants to make Flynn his Minister of Information.
Along the way, we learn that Lola is actually a CIA operative. There are painfully unfunny scenes in Washington, D.C., with CIA agents plotting “Operation Cha-Cha-Cha.” These include a production number set in a men’s room with black-suited agents tap dancing at urinals.
The Andersons also have an overused framing device with a salty, old Cuban woman named Mima reappearing. She is Lola’s grandmother and pops up with jokes. She and Lola sing a nice and wistful but overlong ballad about hoping to immigrate to Miami, Florida.
Though the book is cluttered, the score is lively. Peter Kaldor, John Kaldor and Doug Oberhamer’s music is a breezy amalgam of Burt Bacharach, salsa, and pop and show tunes. Boyd Anderson’s lyrics have a modest flair. The game cast acquits themselves very well with the erratic material.
Conveying the premature decrepitness of Errol Flynn with flair is Jonathan Stewart. His hair styled and with a thin mustache, the charming Mr. Stewart resembles Flynn and channels his dissolute persona and good humor with a melodious, slight Australian accent.
The bearded and youthful George Psomas totally captures the look and essence of the early Fidel Castro with his edgy bearing. Combining sensuality, a lush singing voice and superior comic timing, Mr. Psomas is delightful. He and Stewart’s scenes together energize the show, particularly their clash near the end.
The animated Claire Saunders is comedic and dramatic as the frisky Lola. Sydia Cedeno is hilarious as Mima and richly performs her moving moments. Cole Grissom vividly makes the most of his stock character of the Flynn’s fast-talking Hollywood agent Sidney. Alan M-L Wager and Ryan Bauer-Walsh are suitably cartoonish as the CIA agents.
The talented singing and ensemble is comprised of Alex Drost, Alexandria van Paris, Jon Cooper, Kaitlyn Frank, Maiza Miller, and Rashaan James II.
Errol and Fidel is presented as part of the 2017 New York Musical Festival. This annual event showcases a wide selection of emerging works that are given small-scale productions as a testing ground for the future.
A gorgeous comic book-style painted backdrop evokes the tumultuous era of revolutionary Cuba and is the chief component of Starlet Jacobs’ inventive scenic design. This is complemented by three small arches, wooden boxes and minimal props.
The production’s sheen is adeptly enhanced by Isabella Byrd’s lighting design, Shannon Slaton’s sound design and Heather Carey atmospheric costume design.
Working in a rather confined space, choreographer Justin Boccitto still manages to pull off some Evita-style epic tableaus with finely rendered tangos, marches and ballet moves. Mr. Boccitto also achieves a marvelously campy tone with the Hollywood movie-making sequences.
Director Michael Bello holds all of the production elements together with his swiftly paced and forceful staging. The Cuban locale is smartly realized and there’s an overall enjoyable blend of the lighthearted and the serious.
This exploratory presentation of Errol and Fidel reveals it to have a good deal of potential.
Errol and Fidel (July 10-16, 2017)
The New York Musical Festival (NYMF)
Peter Jay Sharp Theater at Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-352-3101 or visit http://www.nymf.org
Running time: two hours with one intermission