It’s not hard to see why someone imagined a stage musical could be made out of “The Sting,” the 1973 Oscar Best Picture winner starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford as Depression-era con artists who pull off the ultimate heist. After all, George Roy Hill’s artfully constructed film leaned heavily on Scott Joplin’s ragtime tunes — providing fodder for many a ’70s-era student-piano recital rendition of “The Entertainer” and “Rose Leaf Rag.”

There’s much to admire in the new stage musical version of “The Sting,” which opened Sunday for a pre-Broadway run at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey — starting with the tap-tastic choreography of Tony winner Warren Carlyle, whose ensemble work is truly showstopping here.

The production has found an emerging star in J. Harrison Ghee as Johnny Hooker, the green hothead con artist that Redford played on screen, even elevating a racial subplot of the film (Redford’s Booker was called a “n-word-lover” for helping a black man on the street) into a front-and-center element of the story. Ghee has a spry energy that suits his impetuous character, and a golden voice to match.

Ghee almost manages to upstage the show’s above-the-marquee star, Harry Connick Jr., as Hooker’s older, wiser con-artist mentor, first played by Newman in the film.

Read the rest of my review for TheWrap.

 

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