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Marriott Theatre's DARLING GRENADINE a Bittersweet Reflection of Life's Complicated Realities

Daniel Zaitchik's new musical DARLING GRENADINE delicately balances sentimentality and realism in a heartfelt look at one man's struggle with addiction and its effect on those who love him. In its Midwest premiere atMarriott Theatre, Aaron Thielendirects a stellar cast who do equal justice to Zaitchik's charming score and to his imperfect, lovable characters.

In modern-day Manhattan, love is in the air as the leaves turn to autumn colors and starry-eyed composer Harry (Heath Saunders) meets the woman of his dreams, aspiring actress Louise (Katherine Thomas). Rounding out the quartet of central characters are Paul the human (Nick Cosgrove), the witty bar owner who knows Harry better than anyone in the world, and loyal Paul the dog (Phillip Huberof TheHuber Marionettes).

All seems well as Harry and Louise embark on a whirlwind romance: they are perfectly matched with their quirky senses of humor, artistic natures, and knack for pushing each other in their creative pursuits. But soon, Harry's drinking spirals out of control, all but destroying his career and his personal relationships. After hitting rock bottom one lonely New Year's Eve, he must decide whether to give up altogether or to pick up the pieces of his life and start fresh.

Heath Saunders, who returns to Chicago after starring in Lyric Opera's JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, gives a stunning performance as Harry. His warm, openhearted persona endears him to the audience, making it easy to understand why Paul and Louise love him and why they are so hurt when his addiction comes between them. In her portrayal of Louise,Katherine Thomaslayers kindness and compassion with a quiet strength that carries her through painful decisions.Nick Cosgroveis equally compelling as Paul, whose long, complicated history with Harry is gradually revealed throughout the show. Cosgrove's subtle, complex performance keeps pace with this narrative, hitting all the right emotional notes.

Musically, this cast's talent matches their exceptional acting. All three leads have fantastic voices and are ably supported in company numbers byAllison SillandBrandon Springman. This ensemble shines in Zaitchik's tight vocal harmonies, which are accompanied by mostly acoustic instrumentation or by Saunders playing the piano onstage. The lyrics, also by Zaitchik, are alternately full of whimsy, humor, romance, and pathos.

Ultimately, DARLING GRENADINE is the epitome of bittersweet. In a beautiful and believable reflection of life's messy realities, grief and regret are mingled with hope and love. The characters draw you in like they're real people, and their dreams and heartbreaks lingered long after I'd forgotten the tunes to most of the songs. Even if shows about troubled, artsy New Yorkers aren't your typical cocktail of choice, give this one a chance: you may be surprised at how moving it can be.