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Highly Recommended: The Perfect Musical

Highly Recommended

In one of this season’s most highly anticipated productions comes a marriage made in heaven of what many would consider to be the perfect musical wedded with the perfect cast. Add to this mix one of the best artistic teams around, plus the ideal intimate venue for this sweet, old-fashioned script, and you have a production truly guaranteed to charm even the most hardened audience member.

Based upon Miklos Laszlo’s The Parfumerie, this Jerry Bock/Sheldon Harnick (Fiddler on the Roof, Fiorello!) musical version originally premiered on Broadway in 1963 and it became an instant cult classic. There have been countless productions around the world, and just last year New York’s Roundabout Theatre produced another gorgeous jewel box of a revival. Set in a 1930’s Hungarian perfume and cosmetics shop, the charming love story was also adapted into at least three film versions, the latest of which, “You’ve Got Mail,” starred Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. The story revolves around two coworkers who have secretly but anonymously fallen in love through a series of correspondence by way of a Lonely Hearts Club. The irony comes when the couple, who are fellow employees, cannot stand each other in person.

This magnificent production is a Valentine to Chicagoland audiences. Aaron Thielen, lead artistic director, beautifully guides this production, both directing and choreographing his gifted cast of triple threats. Supported by Matt Deitchman, who musically directs the rich, romantic Bock/Harnick score, and featuring some of the most glorious instrumental accompaniment ever provided by the talented Patti Garwood and her nine-piece orchestra, this is one of the finest of the many Spring productions playing in the Windy City. Staged upon Jeffrey D. Kmiec’s lovely, intricately detailed and very adaptable scenic design, lit with love and sparkle by Jesse Klug and costumed with color and period panache by Sally Dolembo, this production is topnotch in every way.

Marriott’s musical stars the effervescent Elizabeth Telford as Amalia Balash. This talented young actress, who’s proven herself as a force of nature at this venue, recently starred as Eliza Doolittle at Light Opera Works. But in this leading role at the Marriott, Ms. Telford absolutely sparkles and shines. She’s created a charming, amiable young woman who’s recently discovered love through a series of letters with a man she’s never met in person. Together they share a mutual passion for good literature. This actress, who’ll win over every theatergoer with her contagious smile and honest, unaffected portrayal, trills songs like “I Don’t Know His Name,” the gorgeous “Will He Like Me?” and the beautiful “Dear Friend.” But Ms. Telford absolutely bursts into a fireworks of emotion with her eleventh hour discovery of love, “Vanilla Ice Cream.”

Ms. Telford is perfectly matched by the always wonderful, superbly talented comic musical actor, Alex Goodrich. Over the past few years, this actor’s made a solid name for himself, especially at the Marriott, beginning with his Jeff Award-winning comic book nerd in “Hero: The Musical.” During the holidays, he delighted audiences in the title role of “Elf, the Musical.” The hardworking Mr. Goodrich has appeared almost everywhere around Chicagoland, most notably at the Royal George, Chicago Shakespeare, the Court and Northlight, to name a few. As Georg Nowack, Mr. Goodrich finally gets to step into a leading man role, but he brings his signature likability and energy, coupled with a charming quirky sensibility. Here he plays Amalia’s anonymous pen pal and the lead shop clerk at the parfumerie. Mr. Goodrich mines every comic opportunity from this role, while still remaining believably honest—funny, yet lovable and charismatic. Mr. Goodrich’s “Tonight at Eight” is a manic musical monologue that’s filled with schoolboy delight. Watch Goodrich as he eloquently and hilariously skirts the stage while delivering the title tune, performing a series of dance steps that recall Gene Kelly in “Singing in the Rain.” Goodrich is truly Chicago’s version of Jimmy Stewart.

The supporting cast is also perfection. James Earl Jones II, plays Mr. Sipos. He recently delighted Marriott audiences as a zebra who wanted to return to the wild, in their TYA production of “Madagascar.” Along with Goodrich, Mr. Jones has spread music and joy at just about every Chicagoland venue. Here he plays a family man who’s also Georg’s hardworking colleague and best friend. Terry Hamilton is both strong and vulnerable as Mr. Maraczek, the owner of the parfumerie. Audiences will empathize with this man who, at the top of the show, thrills in his happily married life (“Days Gone By”), but he soon learns that all’s not well on the home front. Sharing the role of teenaged Arpad Laszlo, the delivery boy with grownup aspirations, are young actors Johnny Rabe and Grant Kilian, who engagingly played the role on opening night. His musical plea to Mr. Maraczek for more responsibility, “Try Me,” is a cheerful opening to the second act.

Lovely, petite Jessica Naimy, last seen at the Marriott as Rosemary in “How to Succeed,” plays another headstrong company employee in this musical, but her Ilona Ritter is a more easily sidetracked romantic. Along with several other numbers, including a vigorous tango, Ms. Naimy’s “I Resolve” is a humorous ode to the character’s newfound spunk and willpower. David Schlumpf, who charmed Marriott audiences as Magaldi, in their production of “Evita,” plays gigolo Steven Kodaly. He’s a mustachioed womanizer who loves waiting upon the female customers with his signature charm, class and obvious glee. Mr. Kodaly’s pompous farewell number, “Grand Knowing You,” elicits much laughter as, upon departing the parfumerie, he stuffs his pockets full of merchandise. And the always rollicking Steven Strafford is exhilarating as the fussy Headwaiter who, along with the multitalented ensemble make “Romantic Atmosphere” a mirthful moment that’s hard to beat.

This divine Jerry Bock/Sheldon Harnick musical classic is flawlessly acted and beautifully sung in this much anticipated production. It’s full of style, class, old-fashioned romance and overflows with charm and humor. In short, this musical Valentine is the perfect entertainment to herald in the Springtime. Love indeed is in the air in Lincolnshire.