“The Sting” At Paper Mill Playhouse Shows Flashes of Greatness


On paper The Sting at the Paper Mill Playhouse is stacked. It’s based on the 1973 movie of the same name that won seven Oscars, including best picture and original score; Harry Connick, Jr. stars; John Rando, who had success directing On the Town, directs; Warren Carlyle, of Hello Dolly fame, choreographs and Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis who hit a home run in Urinetown is the composer/lyricist team.

The Stingat Paper Mill Playhouse; Photo by Jerry Dalia; Center: J. Harrison Ghee(Johnny Hooker) and the company of The Sting.

The three-hour musical offers some treats for the senses, the tap dancing and swing dancing will get your blood pumping and if you’re a Harry Connick, Jr. fan you won’t be disappointed. He’s debonair and shines when he plays songs inspired by Scott Joplin’s rags. But those solo moments are few. J. Harrison Ghee (Lola in Kinky Boots) is winning at singing and dancing as the young grifter Johnny Hooker. But overall, these characters lack depth. They play con men, but they couldn’t win my confidence.

Luther (an avuncular Kevyn Morrow), a con man and mutual friend of both Johnny Hooker and Henry Gondorff (Connick, Jr.), starts the show by teaming up with a trombone player to introduce us to the scene, Joliet, Illinois, 1936. Luther is likeable, but he’s knocked off early by gangster Doyle Lonnegan (played with the confident bluster of a cutthroat gangster by Tom Hewitt). Johnny heads to Chicago to join forces with master con man Gondorff to avenge their friend’s death. They hatch a plan to scam Lonnegan out of half a million dollars. Like the movie, starring Paul Newman as Gondorff and Robert Redford as Hooker, capers and plot twists keep the action rolling.

The Sting at Paper Mill Playhouse; Photo by Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade;
Center: Harry Connick, Jr. (Henry Gondorff) and the company of The Sting.

Peter Benson adds wacky comic moments as The Erie Kid. Robert Wuhl (remember Arli$$?) plays the corrupt police chief.

The Sting is dominated by men. Aside from female ensemble members dancing and slinking across the stage, the only female roles are Billie (Kate Shindle) and Loretta (Janet Dacal) love interests for Gondorff and Hooker, respectively. While the roles are ably played by Shindle and Dacal, developing those parts more might have added new dimensions to all four characters.

The Sting is at the Paper Mill Playhouse, 22 Brookside Drive, Millburn, to April 29. Click here for tickets.

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