Actor Robert Creighton was born to play the part in a staged musical about the life of James Cagney, and that’s just what he’s doing at the El Portal Theatre in NoHo.
Not only is Creighton acting, singing and tap dancing his way through this entertaining production, but he also co-wrote the music and lyrics along with Christopher McGovern.
Direct from its hit run in New York off-Broadway, Cagney: The Musical is the Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Award-nominated musical that follows the life of Cagney from the streets of New York to his rise as one of the brightest stars of Hollywood, from a vaudeville song-and-dance man to the cinema’s original tough guy.
Creighton leads the original cast of six through a score that blends original music with George M. Cohan favorites, including “Give My Regards To Broadway,” “Grand Old Flag,” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”The other five actors who also capably act, sing, and tap dance are Danette Holden, Josh Walden, Jeremy Benton, Ellen Z. Wright, and Bruce Sabath. They each play multiple characters exceptionally well.
But it’s Creighton, the center-piece, that steals the show. He closely resembles Cagney with a strikingly similar Irishness and a tough yet gentleness about him.
The musical starts out with a contentious encounter between Cagney and Jack Warner (Sabath) at the 1978 SAG Awards where Cagney receives the Lifetime Achievement Award, and then flashes back to the relationship battles they had while working on films. They both had huge egos and neither wanted to give in to the other.
It’s the studio vs. actor and how studio executives shape and form them and then attempt to manipulate them into doing things their way. Cagney liked to do things his way and always put his foot down to take a stand.
Cagney is depicted as a man who had to struggle before making it, inventing himself in order rise in the ranks of Hollywood. He loved America, loved his mother (Holden), stayed married to one of his vaudeville costars (Wright) in the entertainment business where relationships don’t usually last, and speaks out against charges of communism.
This production has it all — drama, romance and great music. Cagney: The Musical begins its national tour in 2018.