Review: 42nd Street (Marriott Theatre)

  
  

Shuffle off to Buffalo Lincolnshire

  
  

Drew Humphrey as Billy Lawlor with Ensemble

  
Marriott Theatre presents
  
42nd Street
     
Book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble
Music by Harry Warren; Lyrics by Al Dubin 
Directed by Rachel Rockwell
at Marriott Theatre, Lincolnshire (map)
through May 29  |  tickets: $40-$48  |  more info

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

We can’t, it seems, get enough of The Understudy Who Becomes A Star, especially when the hokey, sappy and satisfying story is stuffed with thrills like "Lullaby of Broadway" and "Young and Healthy." Some clichés justify themselves, if only because nothing less than hokey can fill the sentiment completely.

Kaitlyn Davidson as Peggy SawyerWhen Busby Berkeley‘s 1933 film classic "42nd Street" (with its superb score by Harry Warren and Al Dubin) became in 1980 a successful, Tony-winning musical, the last offering from the great Gower Champion, it proved you don’t need a Depression to justify a good time (though the number "We’re in the Money" sounds more like wishful thinking than ever).

Almost 80 years later, Peggy Sawyer, the tap-dancing chorus girl from Allentown who makes it big on the Great White Way, replays her all-American success story in Marriott Lincolnshire Theatre’s electric revival. Rachel Rockwell’s staging provides, as if needed, more proof that an arena staging can hold its own with a proscenium one for sheer moxie, showbiz savvy and pure pizzazz. (It helps to have a revolving stage to imitate the motions of Busby Berkeley’s overhead cameras.)

Peppy, perky, breezy and campy in the cutest way, the musical also preserves the film’s hungry edge and desperate-to-please energy. The big change is to downplay the chirpy Ruby Keeler-William Powell romance between plucky chorus girl and smiling juvenile and to play up (to please original producer David Merrick) Peggy’s fixation on her hard-boiled, devilishly driven director Julian Marsh. It gets in the way of the show’s chief interest–how Peggy can overcome her shyness, discover her undeniable talent and sell it–and the show ”Pretty Lady”–to the world.

The tribute to the "glittering gulch" of Times Square is as fine a hymn to showbiz solidarity and team spirit as A Chorus Line, 42nd Street glows with solid showmanship in Rockwell’s knowing, loving revival. If the arena production lacks Robin Wagner’s showy sets from the Broadway production (most notably in the mirrored "Shadow Waltz," here clumsily done with silhouettes on a screen, and the awesome Broad Street terminal where "Lullaby" gets hoofed out), Tammy Mader’s pulse-pounding choreography supplies its own heart-stopping spectacle.

     
Tom Galantich as Julian Marsh Drew Humphrey as Billy, Kaitlyn Davidson as Peggy
Drew Humphrey as Billy Lawlor with Ensemble 2 Roger Mueller as Abner, Catherine Lord as Dorothy

The opening tap dance rouser is enough to bring down the house but the house continued to tumble with the Ziegfeld spectacle of "Dames," the chaotic precision of "Getting Out of Town," the marquee-bright splendor of the title song and the vaudeville hijinks of "Shuffle Off to Buffalo" (complete with tiny sleeping cars that revealed chorus girls in salacious lingerie). The chorus boys and girls are worth their weight in Kruggerands.

Carrying the show as no understudy ever could is Kaitlyn Davidson, a platinum-blond Peggy Sawyer whose inexhaustible tap dancing and lyrical assurance can only improve on Ruby Keeler’s wooden original. Drew Humphrey, as her adoring but muted Billy, smilingly exploits what’s left of a role that was virtually handed over to Julian. Tom Galantich plays him with the right mix of messianic rigor and paternal regard, but Julian remains a character who seems warmer on the page than he ever is in life.

Making up for Thomas Ryan’s clever but minimal set pieces (some perhaps dating back to Marriott’s first production in 1993) are Nancy Missimi‘s time-travelling costumes, Depression elegant in their flouncy escapism.

  
      
Rating: ★★★½
  
   

Cast of 42nd Street - Marriott Theatre

Continue reading

REVIEW: 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (Noble Fool)

 

Fun with spelling

 Noble Fool "Beauty and the Beast"

 
Noble Fool Theatricals presents
 
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
 
Conceived by Rebecca Feldman
book by
Rachel Sheinkin and music/lyrics by William Finn
Directed by
Kevin Bellie, music direction by Peter Storms
Pheasant Run Resort, 4051 E. Main St., St. Charles (map)
Through June 13 | Tickets: $29–39, dinner-show packages $46–59 |  more info

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

Can you spell f-r-i-v-o-l-o-u-s? Airy as Wonder Bread, sweet as Gummi Bears, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee offers a fun and unchallenging evening of musical comedy that will get you home well before the babysitter’s deadline and won’t stick you with inconvenient earworms or lingering deep questions. Winner of the 2005 Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical, Spelling Bee began with Rebecca Feldman’s sketch C-R-E-P-U-S-C-U-L-E for her New York comedy group, the Farm. It came to the Noble Fool "Beauty and the Beast" attention of Falsettos composer and lyricist William Finn, who brought on Rachel Sheinkin to help him create a musical adaptation. Opened in 2004 by Barrington Stage Company in western Massachusetts, the musical ultimately became a hit on Broadway, where it played for 1,136 performances. The laughs come from juxtaposition of latter-day life problems, age-old preteen angst and the sentimental nostalgia of the old-fashioned spelling-bee competition.

Kevin Bellie and Peter Storms’ vigorous production for Noble Fool Theatricals is as cute as can be, with a bouncy, talented cast and a lively staging. Spelling Bee runs about 90 minutes with no intermission. On opening night, things stretched out a bit longer when one of the audience members participating in the bee — four volunteers are selected for each performance — proved to be an unexpectedly good speller. Having successfully navigated "catterjunes" (part of the show’s improvisational shtick — it isn’t a real word, so they can accept or reject spellings as needed), he also got through "lysergic acid diethylamide" and had to be eliminated with "xerophthalmiology."

A very strong cast of adult actors aptly plays the competing kids, bringing out their humorous quirks without turning them into cartoons. Especially notable performances come from Samantha Dubin as gawky Olive Ostrovsky, anguished over her missing mom — gone to an ashram in India — and emotionally distant dad; Jack Sweeney as the wide-eyed Leaf Coneybear, rising above his family’s expectations; Cara Rifkin as Logainne Schwartandgrubenierre, a determined grammar-school prodigy urged on by her two gay dads; and Ian Paul Custer as William Barfee, a nasally challenged nerd who spells out words with his "magic foot." Chie Isobe plays uptight overachiever Marcy Park, and Erik Kaiko is Chip Tolentino, the too-confident previous year’s champion. Wonderfully expressive Michael Weber portrays Vice Principal Douglas Panch, increasingly tortured and hilarious as the event goes on. As perky Rona Lisa Peretti, Putnam County’s #1 Realtor and the spelling-bee hostess — reliving her own triumph of the second annual Putnam Co. spelling bee — Liza Jaine solos only briefly, but her powerful backup vocals help hold the show together musically. Randolph Johnson adds a rich note as ex-con Mitch Mahoney, especially in his solo, "Prayer of the Comfort Counselor."

Noble Fool "Beauty and the Beast"

Though they’re mostly good-humored, some gags uncomfortably straddle the line between colorful characterizations and offensive caricatures, a blemish exacerbated by Bellie’s casting and Kimberly G. Morris’s costumes. Sheinkin wrote in the flaming gay dads and the overachieving Korean kid, but it was Bellie’s choice to cast the only African American in his show in the parolee’s part and Morris’s to drape him in gold gangsta chains. Amusing lyrics in songs such as "My Friend, the Dictionary" and "Pandemonium" make up for the banal tunes of Finn’s mostly pleasant, but typically repetitive score. Don’t look for big song-and-dance numbers. Like everything else about this show, the songs lack heft, and sometimes seem like fillers. Overall, this musical isn’t about the music. Just enjoy it as a lighthearted romp.

 
 
Rating: ★★★
 
 

Note: The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee contains adult language and themes that parents may consider unsuitable for young children.

Noble Fool "Beauty and the Beast"

    
   

Review: Oak Park Theatre Festival’s “Fifth of July”

The sequel to Wilson's acclaimed Talley's Folly, which was produced by Festival Theatre in 2007. Set in rural Missouri in 1977, it revolves around the Talley family and their friends, and focuses on the disillusionment with America in the wake of an unpopular war. At once poignent and marvelously funny, Fifth of July is a compassionate portrait of a generation trying to decide whether to abandon their past or find the courage to cope with it and to begin anew. In 1978 Fifth of July was nominated for the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for best new play and the Tony Award for Best Play. For 35 years, the Oak Park Theatre Festival has used its outdoor location to give their productions an authentic vibe and to allow their audiences to enjoy the summer weather while enjoying theatre. This works particularly well for staging Shakespearean works, which, after all, were originally produced in an open-air setting. In more recent years they have staged more modern plays in their slice of Austin Gardens’ park, carefully selecting plays that already have an outdoor setting, like William Inge’s “Picnic.” Set in the front rooms and yard of an old Missouri home, Lanford Wilson’s Fifth of July is a perfect fit for the festival’s aesthetic. Considering the production runs through June and July, it also helps that the play takes place on Independence Day and the morning following. The play is perfectly suited for a staging in a park, but the story and themes are muddled in their current production by some indecisive approaches to the play.

Fifth of July is part of a trilogy documenting the American experience of the Talley family living in Lebanon, Missouri, including the 1980 Pulitzer Prize winner, Talley’s Follies. The play takes place in 1977 and showcases the disillusionment of that era. The protagonist, Kenneth Talley, Jr. (Stef Tovar), is a gay Vietnam veteran who lost his legs in the war. His sister, June Talley (Lydia Berger), was a former hippie and now is struggling as a single mom. Both of them find little to celebrate on Independence Day. They have a big gathering of family and friends, including their Aunt Sally (Kate Kisner) and married friends John and Gwen (Brandon Dahlquist and Rebekah Ward-Hays). The holiday festivities quickly sour when friends and family start bickering about jobs, custody, and the price of the Talley household.

5th of July - poster Pamela Maurer and Alexis Vejar’s set, basically a house with select cuts made in a few of the walls, makes great use of the surroundings. The setting allows for some great stage pictures; conversations could be happening in one area of the house while other characters can be chilling out on the porch or lawn, lighting up the entire space instead of just one corner.

While director Michael Weber succeeds at balancing the stage, he fails at telling a truly cohesive story. It was difficult for me to follow any particular narrative. Important plot points weren’t really served up in any way, voiding the production of an accessible story. Instead of juggling the multiple subplots while supporting Ken’s main story (a decision of whether or not to return to teaching at his old high school), all of the stories were muddled together and none of them came out fully formed. Most of the performances were decent, although some were too over-the-top. A problem that a couple of actors had, which also contributed to the garbled narrative, was synthesizing high emotional distress almost without warning. Instead of building the tension, characters would be chatting to one another and then one would be shouting or crying all of a sudden, which doesn’t work with Lanford’s script. A technical issue that might have added to this was that the set was littered with floor mics, which I suppose helped the actors’ voices compete with passing planes and cicadas, but they also amplified every step and door slam to a distracting level. It might be a necessary evil in order for the dialogue to be heard, but it also took a toll on the overall storytelling.

Still, the Oak Park Theatre Festival is a good time, and is especially suited to summer in Chicago. One thing I learned from the locals, though, is that you should bring plenty of wine, food, and bug spray. Enjoying theatre al fresco, even if it’s not of the highest caliber, is still its own fun experience.

Rating: ««½

 
Cast and Crew
Lydia Berger (June)
Danny Bernardo (Jed)
Brandon Dahlquist* (John)
Charles Gardner (Wes)
Glynis Gilio (Shirley)
Rebekah Ward-Hays (Gwen)
Kate Kisner (Sally)
Stef Tovar* (Ken)
Kieran Welsh-Phillips (u/s Gwen & June)
Director: Michael Weber*
Stage Manager: Robert W Behr*
Costume: Ricky Lurie
Lights: Jeremy Getz
Sound: Kyle Irwin
Set: El Fish
House Manager: Jeff Weisman
Box Office: Mary Liming
* denotes member of Actors’ Equity Association