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

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REVIEW: Once on this Island (Marriott Theatre)

Refreshing as a cool summer breeze.

 

ISLAND- Full Cast

   
Marriott Theatre presents
   
Once on this Island
   
Book/Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Music by
Stephen Flaherty
Direction/Choreography by
David H. Bell
Musical Direction by
Ryan T. Nelson
at
Marriott Theatre, Lincolnshire (map)
through August 29th  |  tickets: $35-$55  |  more info

reviewed by Oliver Sava

Ahrens and Flaherty’s Once on this Island is best when the entire ensemble is on stage. During these group numbers, Flaherty’s score is heavily influenced by the calypso and tribal music of the Caribbean, giving the show a distinct sound perfectly suited for the mystical subject matter. Ti Moune (Chasten Harmon) and Daniel (Brandon Koller) are two lovers from different worlds: the former an orphaned peasant, the latter a mixed-race aristocrat. After being seriously injured in a car accident, Daniel is found by a bewildered once-on-this-island Ti Moune, who prays to the Gods to give her  the power to nurse him back to health and win his heart.

Director-choreographer David H. Bell and his cast work wonders in the Marriott space, using props and movement to create the illusion of rain, birds, trees, and other island phenomena without the need for set dressing. This gives the ensemble ample room to move, a necessity for Bell’s intensely physical choreography, and makes the efforts of the actors to create a fully realized setting even more impressive. The problem with Once on this Island, though, is that these group sequences are much more interesting than the action involving the principals, slowing down the momentum of the production during those scenes.

Harmon captures Ti Moune’s youthful effervescence and naiveté well, but her vocals feel restricted, as if she is holding back her vibrato to keep better control over the notes. It makes the moments when her vibrato creeps in feel out of place, but also gives the feeling that each belt could be taken all that much further. Koller’s songs are fairly typical Broadway fare, but he doesn’t really have much to do until the second half of the show. There’s artificiality to his charm that gives Daniel a very ‘90s boy-band quality, and he takes on a bizarre dialect that sounds nothing like anyone else’s in the show and goes back and forth between French and an odd assortment of eastern European accents. The chemistry between the two finally clicks during the (surprise) group number “The Human Heart,” but it never reaches the emotional heights needed for the show’s climax.

Luckily, the rest of the cast picks up the slack.

Melody Betts’s incredible vocal instrument is used to its fullest as Asaka, God of Earth, her powerhouse belt combined with a motherly affection that gives each note beautiful emotional weight. Erzulie (Melinda Wakefield Alberty), God of Love, achieves the same effect with a gentler touch, maintaining strength but bringing a smoother groove, especially during the pitch perfect “Human Heart.” I’m a big fan of the HBO series Treme, and Nancy Missimi’s god costumes reminded me of the Indian chief garb donned by some of the show’s characters (albeit on a smaller scale), as seen here:

imageThe massive voice of Michael James Leslie, playing Ti Moune’s adopted father Tonton Julian, is almost too big for the Marriott space, but there’s a goofy bewilderment about his characterization that makes it fit, as if Tonton doesn’t realize how loud he really is. Along with Nya as Little Ti Moune, Leslie turns up the adorable factor for this production, creating the kind of good hearted character that you only see on stage.

When Once on this Island embraces its cultural heritage, whether it is in the calypso rhythms of the score or the tribal dance choreography, it is unforgettable. Ahrens’s book embraces the mystical beliefs of the native people, and the direction has an ethereal quality that reinforces the fable aspects of the narrative. Bell and his ensemble of actors transport the audience to an exotic world, and the music is richer when it taps into the vast cultural history of island music. The transformative powers of the creative team are magical in themselves, and a trip out to Lincolnshire is worth the illusion of a cool Caribbean breeze carrying the scent of mangos and the taste of saltwater.

    
    
Rating: ★★★
   
   

ISLAND- Chasten Harmon as Ti Moune and Brandon Koller as Daniel

ISLAND- Nya as Little Ti Moune Chasten Harmon as Ti Moune Joslyn Jones (Euralie) and Chaston Harmon (Ti Moune)
ISLAND- Chasten Harmon as Ti Moune and Melody Betts as Asaka once-on-this-island-2
       

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REVIEW: The Drowsy Chaperone (Marriott Theatre)

A journey to another world

 

DROWSY CHAPERONE--Andy Lupp as George and cast

  
Marriott Theatre presents
 
The Drowsy Chaperone
 
Music/Lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison
Book by
Bob Martin and Don McKellar
Directed/Choreographed by
Marc Robin
Musical direction by
Doug Peck
at Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriot Drive (map)
Through June 28th
  |  tickets: $35-$48  |  more info

reviewed by Oliver Sava

I love Cole Porter’s Anything Goes. No, I’m not reviewing Anything Goes, but hang in there with me. The plot is laughable, relying on many standard musical theatre tropes – mistaken identity, leading lady leaving the stage behind, gangsters, horribly offensive racial stereotypes – but really the story is just a vehicle for the music. Can DROWSY CHAPERONE--Tari Kelly as Janet (moon) anyone deny the rousing thrill of “Blow Gabriel Blow”? The devastating heartbreak of “I Get A Kick Out of You”? And that tap break at the end of Act I? Perfection. Listening to Anything Goes is traveling to another time, an age of innocence when every loose end was tied up with a pretty pink ribbon and the only ending was happily ever after. For Man in Chair (the brilliant James Harms), that musical is The Drowsy Chaperone, and when the needle scratches against vinyl his entire world is transformed into the melodramatic paradise of 1920’s musical theatre.

The Drowsy Chaperone is a tribute to the musicals of Porter and Berlin and Gershwin, a celebration of every spit take and tap break, a love letter to the days when love was all there was. Lambert and Morrison’s music and lyrics provide the ballads and belts people expect from the genre, serving up fine pastiches of the genre’s greats, but Martin and McKellar’s ingenious book is what gives the show an added dimension. Man in Chair is a narrator that is the embodiment of escapist theory, physically entering the world that the audience is only able to observe. Sure, he comments on the musical’s absurdities – those pesky stereotypes, the wafer-thin plot, that song with all the monkeys – but the ridiculous fiction is easier than the harsh reality of his lonely apartment. And then there’s a five minute tap break. That’s the kind of musical The Drowsy Chaperone is.

Director Marc Robin is a master at staging in the round, keeping his actors in constant motion so that no one in the audience is stuck staring at backs the whole night, and his energetic choreography creates dimension on the mostly bare stage. Jazz is blended with ballet, ballroom, and some impressive tumbling to create visually stunning images, and the cast dances it beautifully. The aforementioned tap number is lightning quick, seriously demanding, and impeccably executed by the ever-smiling Robert Martin (Tyler Hanes) and his best man George (Andy Lupp). The physical comedy is slapstick at its finest. Each new scene offers a different way for Adolpho (Adam Pelty) to humiliate himself, and Mrs. Tottenham (Paula Scrofano) spitting in Underling’s (Gene Weygandt) face is a long-running gag. The biggest laughs come from the Man in Chair’s commentary, largely because Harms is the one saying it.

 

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jim-harms-as-man-in-chair linda-balgord-as-drowsy-chaperone

From his first monologue in complete darkness to a joyous moon-ride finale (no, that is not supposed to make sense), he charms the audience with his passion for the theater and makes his home a place you want to be. There is a lot of potential darkness to be explored in Man in Chair, and Harms gets just close enough to the edge that he can provoke a little more insight into the character’s struggle while still being able to turn back and box step with a lesbian Aviatrix (Melody Betts). The biggest joke is how different his real life is from the world of The Drowsy Chaperone.

In the title role, Linda Balgord flippantly dismisses the situation at hand in favor of the next drink, belting the inspiring “You’ll Never Walk Alone”-a-la-Joanne-from-Company “As We Stumble Along” to no one in particular. Robert Jordan and Janet Van De Graaff (Teri Kelly) are ideal ingénues, completely idiotic and hopelessly romantic. The racial stereotypes are cartoonish in their exaggeration, from the European (Italian? Spanish?) Adolpho to the “Message From A Nightingale” act II opening, but it’s not offensive if it’s really funny, right?

The Drowsy Chaperone an intelligent musical that builds on the foundations of the genre while paying tribute to the work that has come before it. Those kinds of musicals are hard to find. It’s easier to turn a movie into a musical, or take a Billboard artist’s discography and add a plot. Marriott’s production is a journey to another world, and even if we have to watch from the sidelines, the view is great.

       
        
Rating: ★★★½
     
     

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REVIEW: Fiddler on the Roof (Marriott Theatre)

Marriott takes the Jewish out of Fiddler

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Marriott Theatre presents

Fiddler on the Roof

Book by Joseph Stein, music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick
Based on the stories of Sholom Aleichem
Directed and choreographed by David H. Bell,
musical direction by Doug Peck
Through April 25 (more info)

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

With its haunting melodies, endearing characters and poignant, historic story, Fiddler on the Roof is one of the greatest musicals of all time. Joseph Stein, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick crafted a musical so beautiful, so compelling, that — from Broadway theater to high-school auditorium — it’s a tough show to screw up. As with any production of this engaging show, Marriott Theatre’s "Fiddler" offers much to enjoy, but it’s a long way from a great version.

fiddler03 The story of Tevye, a Jewish dairyman, and his family and friends in the Russian shtetl Anatevka, ca. 1905, is a multi-layered tale both personal and sweeping. In its conflicts between progress and tradition, between generations, between duty and desire and between different faiths and cultures, "Fiddler on the Roof" offers many universal truths. Tevye is a father coming to grips with his children’s coming of age. Anatevka stands for a lost way of life, as exotic and vanished a culture as Brigadoon.

Yet despite the looming presence of the disruptive outsiders, Anatevka represents not just any lost society, but a Jewish homeland, a tight community whose people spoke their own Jewish tongue (Yiddish, the language in which Sholom Aleichem wrote the original stories that inspired this musical) and where they brought up their children according to age-old Jewish customs. Tevye, above anything else, is a deeply religious Jew. Further, his people’s traditions were not just left behind by the passing of time, they were murderously stolen by bitter bigotry.

Fiddler on the Roof, first and foremost, is a Jewish story. Director David H. Bell, in his perception of Tevye as a bland "Everyman," seems to have missed that point.

You’ll rarely hear any Yiddish or Hebraic accent in his version of "Fiddler." When the script or score compels it, as in the "bidi-bidi-bums" of the klezmer-style song, "If I Were a Rich Man," Ross Lehman, as Tevye, seems ill at ease, almost swallowing the fiddler04syllables. James Harms, meanwhile, plays the village rabbi like an Irish priest, complete with rolled R’s. The whole rhythm of the show seems off, in part because it lacks the cantorial cadence normally imbuing the lead.

Lehman may be the least patriarchal Tevye ever — not discounting those high-school productions. It’s not that he’s a tenor in a role typically cast for a baritone and a physically smaller man than the actors famous for this part; it’s mostly his tone. Tevye, a devout and spiritual man, expresses his deep, personal relationship with God and with his family conversationally and often sardonically throughout the play, but he isn’t snide. Lehman’s Tevye is snarky where he ought to be good-humoredly ironic, arch when he should be aggravated. His performance evokes Paul Lynde or Edna Turnblad (his most recent role at Marriott, a brilliant turn) more than Zero Mostel or Topol.

Beyond casting flaws, Bell’s direction and choreography frequently disappoint. Although he’s no newcomer to Marriott’s theater-in-the-round stage, this show seems to have challenged his ingenuity. From my seat in Section 4, far too many scenes had me looking at actors’ backs. Faces were often obscured by vertical posts or the back of another player’s head. This particularly marred the scenes where Tevye and the butcher Lazar Wolf (an oddly low key David Girolmo) talk at cross purposes and in which Tevye recounts his nightmare to his wife, Golde. Bell redeems these scenes somewhat by well-executed dance numbers, but there, too, I often seemed to be viewing them edge on.

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Marriott Theatre typically stages musicals with large casts beautifully, yet the "Fiddler" stage often seemed cramped and overcrowded, particularly in ensemble numbers such as the "Sabbath Prayer" sequence. Thomas M. Ryan’s set is lightly furnished (except for those unfortunate posts) and he’s used hanging lanterns and other tricks to expand the stage beyond its physical space, so that fault can’t be laid at his feet.

The ensemble as a whole perform very well, and nothing can rob the power from "To Life" or "Sunrise, Sunset." Andrew Keltz, as Motel, does a sweet version of "Miracle of Miracles," but there are no strong individual voices. Again, beyond Nancy Missimi’s traditional costumes, the characters, even in otherwise excellent performances such as Jessie Mueller’s anguished Tzeitel, Rebecca Finnegan’s brisk Yente and Paula Scrofano’s forthright Golde, rarely convey any sense of Jewish or Old World identity.

The residents of Bell’s Anatevka don’t need to go to America at the end of the play. They’re already there.

 

Rating: ★★½

 

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Review: Marriott Theatre’s “Hairspray”

Marriott Lincolnshire brings the beat and never stops

 hairspray3

Marriott Theatre presents:

Hairspray

by Marc Shaiman, Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan
directed/choreographed by Marc Robin
thru December 6th (but tickets)

reviewed by Oliver Sava

Hairspray4 The genius of Hairspray is its pulse; when the show starts moving it never slows down, a feat accomplished by the retro rock n’ roll stylings of Marc Shaiman’s music and a hilarious but socially conscious book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan. Exquisitely directed and choreographed by Marc Robin, Marriott Lincolnshire’s Hairspray captures the limitless energy of the early 60’s with the kind of finesse that makes it all look so easy.

Not enough can be said about Robin’s creative prowess, seamlessly maneuvering his actors around the tricky stage of Marriott’s in-the-round theater. When all 29 actors in the cast perform the show’s final number to all four sides of the house, the rush is exhilarating. Of course, it helps that Robin is assisted by a cast of the city’s top musical theater talent and Chicago newcomer Marissa Perry, who comes straight from Broadway where she played the fifth and final Tracy Turnblad.

Set in 1962 Baltimore, Hairspray tells the story of spunky teenager Tracy’s mission to become a star on “The Corny Collins Show” and date hunky Link Larkin (Billy Harrigan Tighe) while overcoming her overprotective mother Edna (Ross Lehman) and the bitchy Barbie mother-daughter duo of Velma and Amber Von Tussle (Hollis Resnick, Johanna McKenzie Miller). When the dance moves Tracy learns from black classmate Seaweed J. Stubbs (Joshua Breckenridge) in detention make her Baltimore’s hottest sensation, she sets out to integrate her favorite television show with the help of best friend Penny Pingleton (Heidi Kettenring) and Seaweed’s brassy mother Motormouth Maybelle (E. Faye Butler).

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Perry is pitch-perfect as the show’s protagonist, and she brings an infectious energy to the stage that not only spreads to her costars, but the audience as well. When she squeaks out the first notes of the show’s opening number “Good Morning Baltimore” there is no doubt that this is a role that fits her like a glove. The powerhouse vocals and amazing comedic timing of Butler and Kettenring make their scenes with Perry crackle with energy, and watching Lehman’s Edna burst out of her shell and embrace her buxom beauty is heartwarming. Breckenridge gives Seaweed an unbridled sensuality that adds a layer of grit to his dirty dancing, (but there were moments when his vocals paled in comparison to his costars). Marriott’s Hairspray is musical theater at its finest, and should not be missed.

Rating: ««««

 

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