Marriott Theatre listened to their subscribers. They said, although we love the tried and true, we want new plays ( musicals) as part of the season. Marriott listened and they have been doing just that. New musicals that are either Broadway -bound or ones that have been to New York and now they are having their Midwest premiere on the Marriott stage. This musical is titled “Darling Grenadine” and was originally staged in L.A. Will it go from Lincolnshire to Broadway? We will see!
This is a unique musical that comes close to being a “chamber musical” as the music of the play ( Daniel Zaitchick wrote the music and the lyrics as well as the book) is designed to propel the actual story in a similar fashion as just witnessed at nearby Writers Theatre’s “Next to Normal”. This story is about addiction, which is an epidemic and found in all fields of endeavor, but it seems that performers are known to take a part in alcohol and drugs as a part of their lives and in some cases to cope with their lives. It is not just the performers, but the tech people and yes, even the critics and journalists who party on a regular basis, often, with each other.
Getting a show on the road, or meeting a print deadline might be the reason, or in some cases, the excuse! This is based on real life and will hit some audience members, who may be attorneys or even doctors that are under intense pressure. This story is about Harry, played by Heath Saunders who is a remarkable talent that many may recall from Lyric’s “Jesus Christ Superstar ” last season. Heath has all the right moves and truly holds is way on the stage. His character, Harry, is a song writer, or at least that is what he tells people. In reality, he is a “jingle” writer and has one big one that has paid dividends that are enormous, allowing him the ability to do what he wants when he wants and never having to account to anyone for his actions.
Harry was raised by his best friend Paul ( deftly handled by Nick Cosgrove) and his family. In his mind Paul is his “brother” and even his dog is named Paul ( the dog) and here is something special that this production has. The dog is a puppet ( created and provided by The Huber Marionettes) with Phillip Huber in control. There are many times you will forget this is a puppet. The only problem on this part is that being in the round, there are some scenes where some seats will truly not see all the action and interaction between the actors and the puppet. I think on a normal stage, this problem would not exist.
Harry loves going to the theater and in viewing a new show on Broadway, he finds himself entranced by the third girl from the left, also known as Louise ( the enchanting Katherine Thomas, who many might recall from her outstanding portrayal as Sarah in their “Ragtime”). They do fall in friend, then love and then out as the two hours and 20 minutes of “chamber musical” completes the puzzle.
The ensemble is composed of the lovely Allison Sill as the female roles and Brandon Springman playing the male roles along with Mike Nappi as the Trumpet Player, representing the symbol of the drifter looking for his next dollar. Cosgrove as Paul the Human is a delight to watch and his character is a solid one who has stayed with his buddy and taken on whatever he has asked him to be, not for himself, but for Harry and the sake of their friendship..
In many ways, the characters in this production are real people that along his path, Zaitchik has known. There are times that this seems to be a “feel good” story where boy meets girl, boy woos girl and then boy gets girl. Well, he does get her, but as life happens, often, these are only moments in our lives. This play deals with much of this. The people we “think” we know and what it is we like, or do not like about them. The habits that make us feel our friends are not true to us for keeping and those who say they will change, but never do.
The songs in this production are not ones that we hum on the way out. In fact, I doubt that anyone will recall anything about them except that they do propel the story or should I say stories of those characters we are meeting. There is plenty of love and yes, tears for both our characters and the audience. Listen closely to the words and you will see the importance to the story. They are truly wonderful and so is the cast. I leave this at four stars instead of a MUST SEE, only because of the topic and how it may be something that some of you cannot or will not face.
Sharply directed by Aaron Thielen on a set designed by Jeffrey D. Kmiec this show moves swiftly. The musical direction by Ryan T. Nelson is , as always, superb and Patti Garwood conducts the 6 musicians as she hits the keyboards making the music fill the auditorium.
Again, despite it being in the round and having some spots where we cannot see the faces of the two lovers as they fall in love, or the wonderful Paul (the dog) scenes, I feel you should at least check out the show, which will remain on the Marriott Theatre stage thru August 18th.