Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Chicago

Also see John's review of Rent

Doug Peck, Christine Sherrill, Matthew Crowle, Stephen Schellhardt and
McKinley Carter

In this presidential election year, we hear a lot about politicians "playing to the base."

The piece could also be described as an expansion of "Opening Doors" from Merrily We Roll Along, in which we watch a duo of early-career writers struggle to get a foothold in the business. It's that, but Bowen and Bell seem mostly just out to give the audience a good time, rather than get all heavy into the starving artist stuff. Their targets include theater festivals, the difficulty of balancing day jobs with artistic endeavors, performer egos and the demands of commercial theater. The writers played themselves in the show's festival, Off-Broadway and Broadway productions, as did their actress friends Heidi Blickenstaff and Susan Blackwell. For this Northlight Theatre production, the roles are taken by the gifted cast of Matthew Crowle (Hunter), Stephen Schellhardt (Jeff), McKinley Carter (Susan) and Christine Sherrill (Heidi). They're all fine singers with perfect comic timing, and they move lithely yet with seeming spontaneity under Peter Amster's direction (and since there's no credited choreographer, we can assume he's responsible to their tightly choreographed movement).

Crowle's Hunter is a charming procrastinator, though the one who becomes more businesslike once the musical gets some interest from commercial producers. Schellhardt's Jeff, the songwriter, is more the idealist—the dreamer who lives in memories of past musicals and becomes more resistant to the changes in the show that are requested by the producers. Sherrill gives Heidi a believably innocent quality that plays well against McKinley Carter's earthier, mildly competitive Susan. The four blend perfectly and land the jokes with ease under Amster's sure direction, as music director/accompanist Doug Peck displays a comedian's skill with his few lines as the pianist "Charlie."

Photo: Michael Brosilow

See the schedule of theatre productions in the Chicago area

-- John Olson