At the Marriott Theatre
By Dan Zeff
Lincolnshire –As I left the Marriott Theatre after a matinee performance of the new musical “Darling Grenadine” I had a strong feeling that everyone in the audience really liked the show. I just wish I had seen what they apparently approved of so highly. I thought “Darling Grenadine” was slow, miscast, and confusing. Maybe there is a viable show embedded in the current product, but the workshop strongly beckons.
“Darling Grenadine” is a romantic comedy drama with book, music, and lyrics all written by Daniel Zaitchik. Creating a new musical is a huge artistic undertaking and rarely does a single individual succeed in all three facets. Meredith Willson and his “The Music Man” is maybe the most famous example, but it’s a short list.
“Darling Grenadine” is a chamber musical, with a cast of three principal characters and two supporting performers who come and go in minor roles. Filling out the ensemble is a mute marionette artist who expertly guides a remarkably expressive dog on strings, and a trumpet player who injects bits of music at odd moments. The off stage orchestra consists of just seven pieces.
The plot basically follows a New York City romance between Harry, a pop music composer, and Louise, an understudy in a Broadway musical. They meet casually in the first scene and gradually build into a relationship, so gradually that the narrative is virtually inert for at least a half hour. By the end of the first act, Harry, previously presented as a pleasant man, is revealed to be an alcoholic. The second act turns turbulent, with Louise and Harry tumbling through their increasingly rocky affair due to the interjection of Harry’s drinking and his attempt to further Louise’s career by sidetracking the star so his sweetheart could replace her for a performance and win stardom. The maneuver meets with Louise’s outrage, because, if I got it right, she didn’t feel she was ready for a starring performance due to deep seated insecurities about her talent as an actress.
The third character is Paul, Harry’s brother, a nice guy who has struggled with his own sexual identity until he finally comes out as gay. Both Louise and the loyal Paul strive to get Harry back on his career path and away from the booze, creating stresses between Harry and his two loyal companions. At about this time I was writing Harry off as a neurotic unworthy of the care and affection offered by Louise and Paul.
I didn’t buy into the Louise-Harry love affair. I thought Louise was too good for him and his appeal to her eluded me. The show ends on a kind of dark note, at least for Harry. Louise and Paul seemed to emerge in good shape and the minor characters appeared untouched by Harry’s angst. It’s significant that the two most striking emotional moments in the show come from the marionette dog and a live dog that makes a quick but cute appearance in the final moments. That’s not enough to carry the evening.
Zaitchik’s strengths reside more in his music than in the show’s book. The music, though a little monotonous in its mellow sameness in the first act, sets a suitable tone for an intimate chamber musical. His book is dull for most of act one and congested with difficult-to-follow incidents in the second act. Maybe Zaitchik could profit from bringing in an experienced second opinion to straighten out the show’s book problems.
Heath Saunders plays Harry, the key figure in the narrative. Saunders, at least in this role, is a low wattage performer, easy enough to take in the languid first act but off-putting as the boozer in the second act. Drunks are generally difficult to play sympathetically on the stage and Saunders’s Harry didn’t occupy enough emotional space to carry the character’s weight in the second act. Katherine Thomas, on the other hand, displays a fine expressive singing voice but I wasn’t sold that her Louise would find Harry worth this intelligent, if insecure, woman’s love. Nick Cosgrove is fine as the stressed out and caring brother. Brandon Springman and that fine actress Allison Sill do what they can with their brief moments on stage.
Director Aaron Thielen in the playbill displayed great confidence in Zaitchik’s talent and the artistic merits of “Dear Grenadine.” Thielen’s faith in Zaitchik may yet be rewarded but I didn’t seem much in “Sweet Grenadine” to inspire optimism. I don’t think any director could have saved the show.
Jeffrey Kmiec’s single set is an arrangement of steel slats and open spaces that seemed too chilly to support a deeply personal romance. Theresa Ham designed the costumes, Jesse Klug the lighting, and Robert Gilmartin the sound. Ryan Nelson directed the small orchestra. Bravo to Phillip Huber for his marionette manipulations and Mike Nappi was fine in his short trumpet interludes.
“Sweet Grenadine” just didn’t work for me, though I would like to see Katherine Thomas in another, more effective show. I vote nay to this musical, but there were lots of yea sayers at my performance. Anyone contemplating attending the musical might seek a second opinion.
“Darling Grenadine” gets a rating of.
“Darling Grenadine” runs through August 18 at the Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive. Performances are Wednesday at 1 and 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 4 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 1 and 5 p.m. Tickets are $50 to $60. Call 847 634 0200 or visit www.MariottTheatre.com.
Contact Dan at ZeffDaniel@yahoo.com. July 2019
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