How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

At the Marriott Theatre

By Dan Zeff

Lincolnshire—“How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” is one of the few musicals to win the Pulitzer Prize, and for an act and a half at the Marriott Theatre, one had to question the wisdom of the prize judges. Surely there was a better choice during the 1961-62 season than this sappy, obvious farce struggling to satirize corporate America.

      About halfway through the second act, the production turned on a dime. What had been silly and cartoonish suddenly is smart and clever, the two-dimensional characters taking on the heft of real people mired in a serious dilemma. The Frank Loesser score, up to this point amusing and tuneful, takes a giant leap upward with the show’s two best numbers, “I Believe in You” and “The Brotherhood of Man.” If the success of the last scenes didn’t quite elevate the show into a complete pleasure, it certainly stirred the audience into cheering in approval.

        “How to Succeed” sets out to lampoon corporate culture in modern America, taking comic shots at the backbiting, brown nosing, and duplicity required to make it big in big business. J. Pierrepont Finch is an ambitious window cleaner with his eye on the main chance, the top of the corporate executive mountain specifically as represented by World Wide Wickets. Through a series of improbably lucky breaks and his own fast footwork, Finch rises, practically by the hour, until he winds up chairman of the board.

        Finch’s rise repeals all laws of logic but that’s not really the show’s point. The musical attempts to paint a comical musical portrait of conniving yes men, lecherous executives, pliable secretaries, and endless political chicanery.  Loyalty and honesty are the first men down in this every man for himself world. It’s a world in which a charming man on the make like Finch can thrive, at least for 2½ hours on the Broadway stage.

        The musical opened late in 1961 and portrayed a much different business world than we have in the new millennium. There are no typing pools anymore and very few if any secretaries. It’s also a pre-feminist time, where the secretaries yearn to be housewives in a cozy suburb. Two songs will make modern feminists cringe, a housewife hymn called “Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm” and “Cinderella Darling,” in which a middle aged secretary named Smitty and her lady colleagues implore the sweet young Rosemary, the show’s leading lady, to accept her destiny as a Cinderella waiting hopefully for her Prince Charming to give her a life. One production number is built around a group of women discovering that they are all wearing dresses to a fancy social event that were supposed to be Paris originals but are all exact duplicates of each other. Ah, these silly vain females, you’ve got to love them.

Ari Butler takes the pivotal role of J. Pierrepont Finch. The character navigates his way through the corporate jungle with the guidance of a manual on “How to Succeed n Business…” but Finch’s ascent, along with astounding good fortune, is built on the young man’s chutzpa, quick thinking, and ability to fool people who should know better. Until the production’s turnaround in the second act, Butler’s Finch lacks the two-faced smarminess that makes the lad a charming if crafty knave, qualities he suddenly acquires, starting with the “I Believe in You” number.

The show pairs Finch with Rosemary, who falls for him within a few second of his first appearance at World Wide Wickets. Jessica Naimy doesn’t have much to work with in this sweetly uncomplicated girl, but she has a fine singing voice and she does bear a striking resemblance to a young Mary Tyler Moore. Naimy might tone down the comic body language early in the evening as Rosemary tries to entice Finch into a romance.

Terry Hamilton takes on the role of J. B. Biggley, the company president. Chicagoland audiences are accustomed to enjoying Hamilton in serious, stretching roles, and it’s startling to watch his antic Biggley shouting and fussing much of the time. But Hamilton is fun to watch as caricature of the Fred McMurray adulterous executive in “The Apartment.” Alex Goodrich has a fine time portraying Biggley’s over-the-top obnoxious nephew, Bud Frump.  Among the females, Marya Grandy’s Smitty injects a welcome note of comic realism the action. There is also good work from Jason Grimm, Derek Hasenstab, and Neil Friedman as pompous and blustering executives. And let’s not forget Angela Ingersoll, who gives the ostentatiously buxom Hedy La Rue a funny Judy Holiday spin as a brassy blonde who isn’t as dumb as she seems.

Director Don Stephenson is content to let the show ride the farcical rails for much of the evening until those final scenes, when the silliness turns into honest-to-goodness satire. Choreographer Melissa Zaremba designed the animated dances leading up to the triumphant “I Believe in Me” and “The Brotherhood of Man” numbers.

Thomas M. Ryan designed the basic set, embellished by Mondrian-like panels of solid colors hanging above the stage. Jesse Krug designed the lighting and Robert E. Gilmartin the sound. The sexy and extravagant costumes were based on original designs by Catherine Zuber. Patti Garwood conducted the nine-piece pit band with her usual professionalism.

How this show won the Pulitzer Prize remains a puzzlement. The 1961-1962 season had shows worth consideration, like “Purlie Victorious,” “A Thousand Clowns,” and especially Tennessee Williams’s “Night of the Iguana.” Perhaps the prize judges felt “How to Succeed” was an important if comical look behind executive suite doors. But the material is diluted to a sitcom level today and its shelf life as social commentary has expired. So “How to Succeed” isn’t a musical to be considered in the same breath with other Pulitzer winners like “South Pacific,” ”A Chorus Line,” “Rent,” and “Hamilton”. Still, it’s a diverting show for viewers who don’t demand too much, and the production numbers at the end are glorious.

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” runs through October 16 at the Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive. Performances are Wednesday at 1 and 8 p.m., Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 4:30 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 1 and 5 p.m. Tickets are $50 to $55. Call 847 634 0200 or visit

            The show gets a rating of 3  stars.

Contact Dan at:        August 2016

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Man of La Mancha

At the Marriott Theatre

By Dan Zeff

Lincolnshire – Guest director Nick Bowling has accomplished wondrous things with the revival of “Man of La Mancha” at the Marriott Theatre. Without disrespecting the many glories of this classic of the American musical theater, Bowling has rethought the show, illuminating characters and themes to give his production a new immediacy and an enhanced dramatic sensibility.

          “Man of La Mancha” is a play within a play set in Spain, time not specified. The basic location is a prison common room, where a ragtag collection of lowlifes waits for their dreaded interview with the Spanish Inquisition. Into the room enter two men, soon identified as the great Spanish novelist Miguel de Cervantes and his companion, Sancho. Cervantes has been arrested because he foreclosed on a church for the failure to pay its taxes, a ticket to trouble in church-dominated Spain. The inmates, under the authority of a prisoner known as the Governor, put Cervantes on trial with the intent of confiscating all his goods.

Cervantes demands the right to defend himself, his defense being a play about the elderly Alonso Quijana, who takes the more glorified name of Don Quixote de la Mancha. As Don Quixote, Quijana, under the influence of stories of chivalry and knighthood, sets out to right the wrongs of the world, taking a battering along the way. The inmates in the prison morph into characters in the novel. Bowling follows the blueprint of the musical as written by Dale Wasserman (book), Mitch Leigh (music), and Joe Darion (lyrics). The characters are all in modern dress rather than in the clothing of Don Quixote’s 16th century Spain. A cigarette lighter is flashed and Cervantes owns a laptop computer. The prison room itself could be in any modern country with an oppressive judicial system.

                                                           Photo Credit: Liz Lauren

The musical is tightened (no choreography) and the elimination of an intermission reduces the total playing time to a fast-paced 1 hour and 50 minutes. Most important, the characters have been reexamined and the results are a revelation. Don Quixote isn’t an old man addled by delusions of knighthood and chivalry. Nathaniel Stampley (in a brilliant and assured performance) is a Quixote of dignity and authority, a man who makes a strong case for rejecting reality as a falsity, instead living in his imagination where real truth resides.

The “Man of La Mancha” productions I’ve seen tend to patronize Quixote for his idealism. The character is played as a comic and often pathetic figure not entirely in his right mind. But at the Marriott, Stampley is a vigorous and clear-sighted Quixote. His ideas are not the fanciful ravings of a deluded old man. who makes a powerful case for imagination as the true path to reality. Quixote elevates them into a debate that makes a persuasive case for the imagination, or at least a conviction that truth resides in the eye of the beholder.

The fresh reading of two other characters further ornaments this production. The prisoner who takes the role of the padre is normally a background figure who sides with Quijana’s family in their attempt to get Quijana committed as a lunatic for their own selfish motives. The estimable James Harms converts the padre into an intelligent, sensitive figure in sympathy with Quixote’s belief in the life of the imagination. Harms’s rendition of “To Each His Dulcinea” is the most moving and eloquent interpretation of that lovely song I have ever heard and gives the padre a moral dimension that enriches the narrative.


                               Photo Credit: Liz Lauren

Then there is Aldonza, the bitter scullery maid Quixote meets in a country inn and immediately anoints as a highborn lady who Quixote wants to serve with loyalty and dedication. Quixote gives her the more stylish name of Dulcinea and treats her with the consideration the woman had never known in her hard life in the lowest depths of Spanish life.

Aldonza/Dulcinea is typically portrayed by an attractive leading lady style actress. At the Marriott, the character is played by Danni Smith. I don’t know what Smith looks like off stage but in “Man of La Mancha” her thick figure and butch haircut portray a hard-as-nails woman who is built physically and mentally to survive the violence of her surroundings, until her gender catches up with her and she pays the sexual price for living in a brutish man’s world. Smith really convinces the viewer that her character can rise from her sordid life because one man cares enough to convince her she is made of finer stuff. Corny, maybe. Stirring and convincing, absolutely.

Several fresh performances add to the richness of the production. Craig Spidle is a commanding Governor who doubles as the innkeeper (all the supporting performers play multiple roles). Matt Mueller is outstanding as the character who is Quixote’s most implacable adversary, the Realist who ridicules the Don’s dreams. There is also fine work from Richard Ruiz as the cheerful and pragmatic Sancho and Bobby Daye as a traveling barber. But everyone on stage deserves to be listed on the ensemble honor role—Jonathan Butler-Duplessis, Andrew Mueller, Cassie Slater, Lillian Castillo, and Brandon Springman.

The physical production credibly converts the Marriott in- the-round playing area into a bleak prison space. Jeffrey Kmiec designed the set, Jesse Klug the atmospheric and dramatic lighting, Nancy Missimi the grungy modern costumes, and Robert Gilmartin the sound. Patti Garwood conducts the fine small accompanying orchestra and there is excellent solo acoustic guitar work from Dave Saenger. Although there are no choreography credits Ryan Bourque gets a salute for staging two complicated fight scenes with impressive intensity, occasionally mixed with slapstick humor.

This magnificent revival would not have been possible without the glories of the original show to build upon. “Man of La Mancha” has given audiences one of the great emotional and dramatic experiences in modern music theater. It’s hard to figure why we get so few revivals of the show when we are inundated with revivals of “Cabaret” and “Chicago” and “42nd Street” and “Fiddler on the Roof.”

Veteran admirers of the show need not worry that the Marriott staging has overemphasized the intellectual material at the expense of tugs at the heartstrings. In particular, Quixote’s death scene at the end produced a vast amount of eye wiping and nose blowing from the emotionally nailed audience, present company included.

 Man of La Mancha” runs through August 14 at the Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive. Performances are Wednesday at 1 and 8 p.m., Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 4:30 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 1 and 5 p.m. Tickets are $50 to $55. Call 847 634 0200 or visit

            The show gets a rating of 4 stars.

Contact Dan at:        July 2016

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At the Marriott Theatre

By Dan Zeff

Lincolnshire–-In reviving “Evita, ” it’s essential that the musical be staged within the framework established by director Harold Prince in the original London production in 1978. The Prince concept drives the show. The Marriott Theatre is presenting “Evita” with Alex Sanchez as both director and choreographer. Sanchez retains Prince’s classic model but adds enough tweaks to burnish the Marriott version with fresh theatrical and dramatic impact.

         “Evita,” as every musical lover knows, is the biography of Eva Peron, the power behind Argentine dictator Juan Peron during the 1940’s. We first meet her as the ragamuffin 15-year old Eva Duarte, living in obscurity and poverty in a backwater Argentine town. But Eva wants to become a star, and she has a plan, a plan built on sleeping her way to the top level of power in Buenos Aires. She eventually connects with General Juan Peron and orchestrates Peron’s ascent to his country’s presidency. It was then just a short and brutal step to dictatorship.


                                                                             Photo credit: Liz Lauren and the Marriott Theatre              

         “Evita” started out as a record album in England with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice. Prince shaped the music into a remarkable stage vehicle, blending the score with choreography to trace Eva’s rise and fall. Prince created a narrator named Che to guide the audience through Eva’s career. Che and Eva and Juan are the only major continuing individual characters in the musical, complemented by a large chorus of singer/dancers representing the Argentine underclass who formed the backbone of Eva’s popularity.

         The Sanchez production drains any sentimentality from the story. Eva is a hard-edged opportunist worshiped by the Argentine poor until she comes to believe in her own myth. The role makes huge vocal demands on the performer, so Hannah Corneau sings five of the week’s eight performances, replaced in the other three by Samantha Pauly. On opening night Corneau’s voice was loud and powerful but often shrill. Her voice may have been strained or perhaps she deliberately avoided “beautiful” singing to buttress her Evita as a lady on the make and not an opera diva. In any case, the strident effect worked to underscore the character’s ferocious ambition and ultimately her desperation.

         Austin Lesch makes a particularly youthful Che, singing and acting the role with a cynicism that reinforces the calculating and manipulative drive of Eva’s rise to power. Viewers won’t find a heroine in Eva at the Marriott, yet a woman too complex to be a black and white villain. All the productions of “Evita” I’ve seen have portrayed this complexity in some manner, but Sanchez has give it his personal edge.


                                                              Photo credit: Liz Lauren and the Marriott Theatre

         Larry Adams plays Juan Peron with a big voice and a strong outward presence. Juan is ready to abandon Argentina for a life of leisurely exile when the political going gets rough, but Eva is strong-minded enough to keep him in Buenos Aires and leadership over one of the most corrupt governments in Latin American history. Adams may have been attracted to Eva for erotic reasons, but in her final days he has the humanity to show, if not outright love, then admiration for his driven wife, along with dependency.

         The only other characters who separate themselves from the ensemble are big-voiced David Schlumpf, Eva’s first lover during her ascent to power, and Eliza Palasz, Peron’s young mistress callously displaced by Eva. Palasz has only one song as the evicted mistress, a plaintive lament called “Another Suitcase in Another Hall,” and she nails it.

         The large chorus comprises perhaps the most exciting character in the production, the impoverished men and women who fell under Eva’s spell and sobbed at her death, refusing to recognize her betrayal of their trust as she grew increasingly wealthy and powerful. Sanchez brilliantly choreographs the chorus, using them as an essential element in the narrative.  Sanchez has also revised the staging in small ways. The competition among the generals for the political leadership of the country is usually portrayed by a game of musical chairs. Sanchez changes it to a series of brief wrestling matches. The musical chairs were amusing, but the wrestling reflects the underlying violence of the power struggle, a nasty contest of the survival of the fittest to control Argentina.

         The production is a good fit for Marriott’s intimate in-the-round stage. There is little to Thomas M. Ryan’s set except open space, with different locations signified by shifting properties designed by Sally Weiss. The company employs the theater aisles as well as the stage, allowing the action to flow smoothly from short scene to short scene. Robert Gilmartin designed the sound, Jesse Klug the lighting, and Nancy Missimi the costumes.

The Marriott orchestra directed by Patti Garwood likewise is an integral character in delineating the play’s narrative and mood. The orchestra makes splendid use of Argentine tango rhythms, with fine guitar solos by Dave Saenger. There are only 10 musicians in the band but their sound filled the theater like a first-class Broadway pit orchestra.

“Evita” has always been one of my favorite musicals. The Harold Prince staging never fails to dazzle. He took what is basically a tawdry story of a tinhorn dictator and his round-heeled consort and turns it into a theatrical feast. The Lloyd Webber-Rice score is the best of their collaborations. The show is almost entirely sung through, highlighted by the signature song “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” and the even better, if less known, “High Flying, Adored.”

My only quibble is the excessive length of the second act, especially Evita’s drawn out decline leading to her death from cancer at the age of 33. Ten minutes could be blue penciled from Evita’s downward spiral with no loss. Sanchez omits the film projections that normally flavor the show visually, trusting the score, the original theatrical imagination of Harold Prince, and his own creativity to sustain the evening. His production is intelligent and revealing. He has earned an encore assignment.

“Evita” runs through June 5 at the Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive. Performances are Wednesday at 1 and 8 p.m., Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 4:30 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 1 and 5 p.m., with some additional Thursday performances at 1 p.m.. Tickets are $50 to $55. Call 847 634 0200 or visit

            The show gets a rating of 3½ stars.

Contact Dan at:        March 2016

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Sister Act

At the Marriott Theatre

By Dan Zeff

Lincolnshire–The spectacle of nuns kicking up their heels in disco and rock ‘n’ roll glee must have a limitless attraction for a certain segment of the playgoing public. How else to account for the success of the “Nunsense” franchise?

         The “Nunsense” syndrome strongly permeates the Marriott Theatre production of “Sister Act.” We again get a stage full of nuns jiving and joking to music that belongs more in “Soul Train” than the church, sassing their superiors, and exchanging high fives. But unlike the typical inane “Nunsense” frolic, “Sister Act” is a hoot. Indeed, after about 20 minutes of tedious narrative setup, the show is a romping stomping delight.

         “Sister Act” originated as a motion picture in 1992 and eventually matriculated into a stage musical in 2011. The show has undergone many permutations since its birth 25 years ago. Songs from the movie were displaced by a new score by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater. I never saw the film original but I can’t imagine that score was as felicitous as the bundle of joy shouting out at the Marriott.

         The basic storyline remains the same as the movie version. A black nightclub singer inadvertently witnesses her gangster boyfriend murdering a stool pigeon. As the only eyewitness, she is a marked woman so the police sequester her disguised as a nun in a local convent.

The movie version was set in Los Angeles. The current stage version takes place in Philadelphia in the late 1970’s, a period that allows the production to outfit itself in 1970’s clothes and reference points (there are plenty of afro hair styles) along with the music of the period. The singer, named Deloris, shakes up the staid convent nuns with her breezy and highly secular attitude. Gradually the nuns fall under her influence, to the dismay of the starchy mother superior. So we have the tumult created by Deloris’s residence in the convent and on the outside the killer boyfriend tracking her down before she testifies against him.


                                  All photos courtesy of Liz Lauren and The Marriott Theatre

The plot is silly and the Marriott production wisely brushes it aside for long stretches, devoting pride of place to a terrific set of song and dance numbers. Enter choreographer Melissa Zaremba, one of those seriously talented new choreographers who have emerged from the chorus lines of area musical theaters in recent years.

Zaremba has gathered a superior group of young female singer-dancers (with a few males occasionally joining in) and put them through some exuberant dance numbers peppered with delightful creative touches. In “I Could Be That Guy,” a young policeman played by Jonathan Butler-Duplessis belts out a rhythm and blues number while changing in and out of uniform three times. The numbers are enhanced by Nancy Missimi’s dazzling costumes. Who would have believed so many sumptuous outfits could be inspired by a nun’s basic black wearing apparel?

The chorus of nuns is mostly fun and games, led by a five-by-five dynamo named Lillian Castillo, who distinguished herself locally as the leading young lady in “Hairspray” at the Drury Lane Theatre. But the scene-stealer is Tiffany Tatreau, the young lady who made such an impression in the surprise hit “Riding the Cyclone” at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Tatreau plays a young novice who has doubts about her calling, powerfully expressed in “The Life I Never Led.” She has an ear grabbing expressive voice and a youthful presence that added just the right amount of serious seasoning to what otherwise was a total lark at the Marriot.

The veteran Hollis Resnik has the unenviable task of playing the hard-nosed mother superior, the spoilsport supervising the high-spirited nuns. It’s a role oozing clichés but Resnik gives it a deft sense of dignity along with some tart wit, plus she can knock out a powerhouse song with the best of her charges.


                                                     All photos courtesy of Liz Lauren and The Marriott Theatre

Don Fortson seemed to be having a great time as the diocese monsignor. Forston gets off some hilarious one-liners during the evening and morphs into a rock ‘n’ roll master of ceremonies with a strong tinge of John Travolta. And the gangster’s three henchmen do a knockout number called “”Lady in the Long Black Dress” that deliciously sends up macho men on the make. The number has nothing to do with the rest if the show but who could deny burley Todd Horman (the chief soloist) and Jason Slattery and Mark Hood their moment of well-earned stardom.

The nominal star of the show is Stephanie Umoh, who plays Deloris. She is shackled by the stereotype of the good bad girl early on, but once the music takes over, she dispenses one tingling vocal solo after another, often at the head of the rafter-raising nun chorus.

Glenn Slater’s lyrics are funny and pointed, weaving liturgical references into his words, yet there is never a descent into vulgarity or sacrilege. This isn’t “Book of Mormon” for a Roman Catholic audience. The show even includes a cameo visit by Pope Paul VI.

Guest director Don Stephenson gives Zaremba her head with the dance numbers, correctly identifying that’s where the show works best. Stephenson is a man who knows his business, rightly placing his confidence in the music and dancing.

Along with Missimi’s flavorful costumes, the first rate design credits go to Thomas M. Ryan’s set, Jesse Klug’s lighting, and Robert E. Gilmartin’s sound. Patti Garwood conducts the full-sounding accompanying orchestra with her usual professionalism.

I entered the Marriott with gloomy thoughts of sitting through still another “Nunsense”-type farrago of sappy low comedy. What the Marriott delivered was one of the best entertainments of the season and a breakout showcase Melissa Zaremba’s choreography. What raised the enjoyment level of the evening even higher was the obvious pleasure the performers were taking in the show. Talent plus high energy can produce wonderful things on a stage.

       The show gets a rating of 3½  stars.

“Sister Act” runs through April 3 at the Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive. Performances are Wednesday at 1 and 8 p.m., Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 4:30 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 1 and 5 p.m. Tickets are $50 to $55. Call 847 634 0200 or visit

Contact Dan at:        February 2016

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Want to read more reviews go to TheaterinChicago


Spring Awakening

At the Marriott Theatre

By Dan Zeff

Lincolnshire – The media has made much of the risk the Marriott is taking by presenting “Spring Awakening” as a special work aside from the musical subscription season. The worry was that the Frank Wedekind German drama is so sexually explicit and so serious that it would alienate the many older conservative subscribers who expect Broadway musicals from the theater.

         “Spring Awakening” was written in 1891 but it was so controversial that it didn’t receive its premiere production until 1906. In the original version,  the conflict between teenage and adult generations in a German town blended expressionistic fantasy and realism. The teenagers, their hormones pumping, are awash in curiosity and hunger over sex. They are thwarted by the adults, comprising stereotyped parents and teachers who are variously self righteous, narrow minded, authoritarian, and hypocritical. The clash leads to tragedy among the teenagers, ending with one young man committing suicide and a girl dying from a botched back street abortion.

         The 1891 play, with its grotesque images and overheated language, would be unplayable today. The Wedekind script was revised and modernized for a Broadway musical production in 2007 that won much commercial success and many awards. The triumph of the Marriott production resides in its brilliant staging and flawless casting combined with a fine book by Steven Sater, who also composed the lyrics.

Sater stays fairly close to the Wedekind original in its plot and characters, but smooths out the bumps in the 1891 script to make it work for modern audiences. Sater is complemented by Duncan Sheik’s effective light rock score, a collection of musical numbers that admirably flesh out the show’s emotions as well as its narrative. Characters often sing directly to the audience, uses stand-up and hand-held microphones to deliver their passionate messages. The device may seem artificial but it works beautifully, blending seamlessly with the realism of the dialogue and the dramatic situations.


                                                                         All photos courtesy of The Marriott Theatre and Liz Lauren

 The Marriott staging is a personal triumph for director Aaron Thielen. First, he has cast his ensemble with a collection of young people who actually look like teenagers. They sing terrifically and act the often melodramatic moments with conviction and passion. All the adult roles are played by two performers and Thielen has gone to the top shelf of the area acting pool in employing Kevin Gudahl and Hollis Resnik. They take on cameos of all the town elders, with their intolerance and smugness and confusion and sometimes their pain. The townspeople are almost entirely caricatures but Gudahl and Resnik bring them alive, adding essential credibility to Wedekind’s simplistic plot.

 Thielen also gets choreographer credit, but this isn’t a dancing show. Instead, Thielen masterfully moves his crowds of young people in vividly stageworthy choreographed movement. Set designer Thomas M. Ryan has slightly reconfigured the Marriott in-the-round stage, adding an architectural element that serves as a backdrop for a large horizontal blackboard (for the schoolroom action) and a screen for Anthony Churchill’s atmospheric projections. Ryan’s consists mostly of an arrangement of pipes and medal doors that enclose the stage to symbolize the psychological cage that traps the young people.

The production’s splendid visual values have been enriched by the lighting design by Lee Fiskness and the historically evocative costumes designed by Susan Hilferty and Nancy Missimi. Robert Gilmartin is the sound designer. Thielen has placed the small string orchestra, conducted by  Patti Garwood, discreetly on stage where their accompaniment provides subtle but strong emotional underpinning to the story.

The younger generation is collectively played by six young men and five young women, all of them perfect for their roles. On the female side, Eliza Palasz gives young Wendla a fragile vulnerability mixed with a steely resolve. Wendla is sacrificed on the altar of adult intolerance with an absence of manipulating sentimentality that makes the character’s unjust fate heartbreaking. The only other females with vocal solos are Adhana Cemone Reid as one of Wendla’s girlfriends and Betsy Stewart as a young prostitute, another victim of adult intransigence. The remaining females, both excellent, in the coterie of schoolgirls are Tiffany Tatreau and Elizabeth Stenholt.


                                                             All photos courtesy of The Marriott Theatre and Liz Lauren

The young men are led by Patrick Rooney as Melchior, a bright student and the one character who chooses to resist adult intolerance, a losing fight. His singing voice magnificently sells Melchior’s emotional turbulence. Ben Barker is a scene stealer as Moritz, the young man overwhelmed by the unreasonable and unsympathetic demands of the adult world. The other lads are played by Nate Lewellyn, Brian Bohr, Nick Graffagna, and Liam Quealy Like their female counterparts, they are a joy to watch and hear.

Compared to most modern musicals, “Spring Awakening” (sometimes called “Spring’s Awakening”) has moments that might invite the equivalent of an R rating. The topic of teenage sexuality is still sensitive today, though not as sensitive as it was back in Wedekind’s day. The dialogue and song lyrics are peppered with profanity, and there is the abortion (off stage), sexual congress (on stage but tasteful), and homosexual activity in one scene (also tasteful). But there is no nudity and no violence. In other words, there is nothing in this show that could offend an intelligent viewer, and the show, with its accessible rock score, should appeal especially to young viewers, an audience Marriott is anxious to tap, giving the demographics of its present subscribers.

I would like to think that concerns over the frank nature of “Spring Awakening” as a turn-off for the average Marriott patron are unwarranted. Great theater is great theater, and the Marriott staging ranks among the finest accomplishments in the theater’s illustrious history. The Marriott management has scheduled the show for only a three-week run and booked it as a non-subscription attraction. Subscribers must buy tickets separately, though they receive a discount. This show clearly deserves a longer life than three weeks. Possibly there could be a transfer to a similarly intimate Chicago theater where a young audience is more easily reached than in the northern suburbs. Marriott deserves to be rewarded for the superiority of this production. And spectators will be amply rewarded in return by experiencing one of the theater events of the season.

The show gets a rating of 4 stars.

“Spring Awakening” runs through January 31 at the Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive. Performances are Thursday at 2 and 8 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $50. Call 847 634 0200 or visit

Contact Dan at:        January 2016

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