The overall tone is delightfully, mindlessly manic, but there are also plenty of dramatic surprises along the way, as the teenagers take turns being thunderstruck by the importance of starting adulthood on the right foot. And each wonders if he may already be living under some sort of curse that will haunt him to the grave. All four actors show remarkable depth and sincerity in bearing their crushing burdens.
But most of the show's success is in the nearly-grown boys' ability to turn any and every flat surface into a trampoline, and go tumbling one-over-the-other for 90 minutes of hyper-caffeinated singing and dancing, punctuated by youthful blues and bravado. The complex melodies and harmonies, likewise, are so masterfully detailed (thanks to music director Kevin D. Mayes) you might begin to take them for granted. But, as with any fully realized musical comedy, many mountains will be moved at every performance, without complaint.
As Pete, Jay W. Cullen gets the greatest opportunity to display his excellent dramatic abilities, telling the wrenching story of being orphaneda story which, itself, leads to even more trouble within the playand Erik Kaiko creates a surprising, edge-of-the-cliff sensation in the character of Ross, who gradually, horrifically seems to realize that he may be destined to play the fool for the rest of his life. Both men are swept up by their involvement with a beautiful young British good-time gal (played with seamless credibility by Andrea Larson). Devin Archer plays the pal with the terrible secret, and he subtly, masterfully piles the weight on his own shoulders till he's reached the breaking point. And Dan Beno is as committed and enjoyable as the rest, though his character on stage doesn't really have that much to do, except to maintain the fabric of unbreakable, life-long friendship throughout. Not that it's any less valuable, nor (on any given day) any less difficult to pull off. It's just not a great showcase for future roles, unless they're in musical theater, where he could easily write his own ticket.
The height of comedy is reached near the end, with a song and extravagant dance called "Spanish Hospitality" that pulls out all the stops, and may remind you of a half-dozen or so Monty Python sketches, at least tangentially. It's a riot of comedy and style, and if it were twice as long, I think I'd still be completely entranced.
Brittany Townsley, Abby E. Sammons and Rus Rainear play the spiritually defeated flight crew for the airport gate service, and each is appropriately downtrodden, but also absurdly dazzling when needed.
The set is a surprisingly credible representation of a forgotten corner in the Malaga terminal and, now and then, beyond its "frosted glass" curving walls, we catch a glimpse of the two-man band, which does amazing things, with the help of the unstoppable on-stage talent.
A soaring triumph.
Departure Lounge runs through December 12 at the Royal George Theatre. For performance and ticket information, visit the web-site, www.bailiwickchicago.com
Photo by Jay Kennedy