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Marcia Milgrom Dodge’s superb musical revue is a colorful celebration of everything that makes life worth living

Lovely Allison Blackwell slowly walks onto the Marriott stage and immediately her eyes tear up. Most of the audience can empathize with her emotional response, as she surveys her surroundings. Christopher Rhoton’s imaginative scenic design presents a space that resembles an abandoned theatre, possibly the Marriott itself, as it might’ve looked the day the lights were turned off almost two years ago. That’s when the pandemic shut down every Chicagoland venue. A dusty act curtain lay across the stage; an old piano, some assorted chandeliers and few props and costumes are strewn here and there; and the ghost light, a promise of good things to come, shines brightly, frightening away bad spirits and welcoming the joyous energy of a new show.

And that ethereal lamp certainly does its job. Behind Ms Blackwell enter her talented cast-mates: Meghan Murphy, Amanda Rose, Joseph Anthony Byrd and Kevin Earley. Allison begins to muse musically that unexpected things happen, what doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger, and “The World Goes ‘Round.” The rest of the cast joins her and a lump comes into our throats as we realize this is how we’ve all coped with Covid. Masked and with proof of being vaccinated, the audience settles back to enjoy an evening of Kander and Ebb’s beautiful music.

This enchanting show is a musical revue, with no actual plot or specific characters. Yet stories evolve and personalities continually emerge and morph into others. Every song or medley tells a story of love that’s been lost, sought, enjoyed or regained. The emotional score is about want and need,  celebration and jubilation. And this production succeeds due to the many talented artists who’ve given their all to make the show happen.

First and foremost is the gifted guidance provided by the talented trio who have brought this script to life. This triumvirate consists of creative Music Director Ryan T. Nelson, a superb seven-piece pit orchestra, led by the magnificent Patti Garwood, and the visionary direction and choreography from Broadway dynamo Marcia Milgrom Dodge. These three artists have worked tirelessly together, tweaking the musical selections from the original 1991 production and developing new arrangements and orchestrations. They’ve shaped and molded the entire show into a perfect 90-minute entertainment that makes a glorious reopening event for the Marriott Theatre.

In addition to kicking off the show with her heartfelt rendition of the titular “The World Goes ‘Round,” Broadway veteran Allison Blackwell charms with “My Coloring Book,” then brings her unique stylings to “Only Love,” from Zorba. She teams up with Meghan Murphy for the comical “The Grass is Always Greener,” from Woman of the Year, and adds in Kevin Earley for a “Trio” of tunes, finally employing her velvety voice to caress the hope-filled “Maybe This Time,” from Cabaret.

Meghan Murphy, that magically versatile redhead from dozens of prior Marriott productions, blazes away again on the Marriott stage with her lush version of “Colored Lights.” Then Meghan delights and charms with the sweet “Ring Them Bells.” She then absolutely owns the stage with a heartfelt “How Lucky Can You Get” and “Isn’t This Better,” both from the Barbra Streisand film Funny Lady.

Beautiful Amanda Rose, fresh off of National Tours of Wicked and Holiday Inn, delights with the titillating “Arthur in the Afternoon,” from The Act. Next she sets the stage on fire with “All That Jazz,” from Chicago, enchants with “A Quiet Thing,” from Flora, the Red Menace, and teams up with multitalented dance captain Joseph Anthony Byrd for a stunningly choreographed piece that features a variety of familiar Broadway songs, entitled “Shoe Dance.”
Joseph Anthony Byrd returns to the Marriott stage to delight us with his whimsical “Sara Lee,” also from The Act, joins Kevin with a medley of “I Don’t Remember You” (The Happy Time) and “Sometimes a Day Goes By” (Woman of the Year), and brings a tear to our eye as “Mister Cellophane,” from Chicago.

Handsome Kevin Earley brings his welcome talent back to the Lincolnshire stage with “The Happy Time,” from the show of the same name, offers a dramatic gender-bending “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” also from the show of the same name, makes “We Can Make It,” from The Rink, his very own, while adding his dynamic presence, harmonies and charm to almost every ensemble number.

Some of the best company numbers include “Money, Money” and the title song from Cabaret, a delightfully witty “Coffee in a Cardboard Cup,” from 70, Girls, 70, and finally, that high-kicking anthem to the Big Apple, from the movie of the same name, “New York, New York.”

This production marks the reopening one of Chicagoland’s longtime favorite musical venues, the unique arena theatre that is the Marriott Lincolnshire. Marcia Milgrom Dodge’s superb musical revue is a colorful celebration of everything that makes life worth living, especially in the theatre. It’s a tribute to the 50 year brilliance of legendary songwriting team John Kander and Fred Ebb, known for their countless Broadway shows, movie musicals and television specials. This reimagined production also honors the thousands of performers who, for the past two years, haven’t been able to what they were born to do: perform for a live audience. The show examines, through song, what may have been lost but has now, thankfully, been restored. Relationships emerge, love blossoms and the sheer joy of the theatre burns again, hopefully never again to be extinguished.

Highly Recommended