Highly Recommended**** Anyone who has ever been involved with a wedding and the planning of this major event in a young woman’s life, will get a special feeling in viewing a very special musical treat at Stage 773 on Belmont in Chicago. This is the the Chicago premiere of “A Catered Affair” the musical with a book by Harvey Fierstein and music and lyrics by John Bucchino based on a Bette Davis movie of the 1950’s- an exploration of just how strong love can be. This is 90 minutes of deep emotion brought to the stage under the clear direction of Nick Bowling with musical direction by Doug Peck; need I say more?
While this is a musical, with songs of great depth and meaning, there are no hummable tunes and most of the songs are geared towards moving the story from point a to point b, which is what makes the story as strong as it is. The main characters are a couple, one that was placed together many years ago, and over the years has grown to be a loving couple ( although they don’t really know this , yet) played by two of Chicago’s finest, Rebecca Finnegan and Craig Spidle, have just lost a son to the fate of war and now have learned that their daughter , Janey ( the adorable and very young looking,Kelly Davis Wilson) wants to have a simple wedding, with no frills to her boyfriend Ralph ( Jim Deselm).
As a mother, Aggie, wants to do more for her daughter, one that she feels she may have ignored over the years as her older brother was the first and possibly the “chosen” child. Dad, Tom, is in a position he has waited for years to achieve, owning the taxi medallion he has worked so hard for, but now, as Ralph’s parents ( played by Larry Baldacci and Anne Sheridan Smith) start planning a huge wedding, Tom sees the wedding as the destruction of his dream.
What we witness during this 90 minutes is the coming of age for the parents of the bride, rather than the young couple themselves as the story unleashes the complexities of relationships between parents and children, husbands and wives, and brothers and sisters as well as that of friends as all of our characters come to grips with what is of greater importance in the lives of those you love.
This is a heartfelt, warm and loving story with some magical moments of reality as well as some funny moments as well. Uncle Winston ( Jerry O’Boyle truly has been missed in Chicago) is a character filled with realism and brings that to the table and the ensemble members who take on several roles are all added value to a solid production; Lauren Villegas,Brittani Arlandis Green and Caron Buinis handle several roles ( as do Baldacci and Ms Smith) and each, to perfection.
While they have undergone many changes at Stage 773 ( formerly The Theatre Building) and the overall design in the venue has been changed, Porchlight is still working with a three sided seating area allowing for great sight lines for the audience. The sound is still not as one would like it to be, but that may be due to the musicians being on the stage itself, although off to one side, there are a few moments, when the music was louder than the voices ( certainly not when Ms Finnegan sings). Some of the musicians are behind the set ( designed simply, but with purpose by Brian Sidney Bembridge) and the strings are in view ( adding to the sweetness of the story). Nic Jones does a splendid lighting job, Bill Morey’s costumes are delightful, the props assembled by Jaime Karas work just right and the sound (Victorio Deiorio) although somewhat strained works for the room.
The talent brought together to make this production a special event has the right feeling and emotion to pull it off with heart and this is a story that must have heart to get through to an audience. Bowling knows who he is working with and Spidle ( not a singer, by any means ) makes his songs as melodious as any musical comedy performer could ever accomplish. Finnegan is an established vocalist and in this role she gets an opportunity to show off her range. Young Ms. Wilson ( who looks way to young to even think of getting married) is adorable in her role and one gets over her youth quickly. As I stated from the “get-go”, this is not a musical that you will be humming melodies from on the ride home, but you will remember the story and the plot and the mindset of what true love can accomplish.
“A Catered Affair” will continue at Stage 773 through April 1st with performances on Fridays at 7:30 p.m.,Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.
Tickets are $38 and are available at the Stage 773 box office located at 1225 West Belmont, by phone at 773-327-5252 or online at www.porchlightmusictheatre.org