Tuesday August 22nd 2017

“A Class Act”

As a theater reviewer, i am privileged to see many shows that I have never seen before. While, in doing so, I run the risk of spending two hours or so in a dark theater not enjoying what I see, in most cases, I am thrilled by the fresh and new plays that are put before us in our smaller theaters. Companies such as Porchlight Music Theatre, which brings us both standards and new musicals, now has on the stage at Theater Wit, a musical that was nominated for many Tony Awards and yet did not survive the Broadway audiences. Well, here in Chicago, where theater lovers embrace new and fresh material, I have a feeling, we will give this show the love that it deserves. The play is called “A Class Act” with music and lyrics by Edward Kleban and a book by Linda Kline and Lonny Price. One might ask, who is Edward Kleban? Edward was a nerdy character who wanted nothing more in life than to create musicals- productions that would be performed in a large building with a huge audience of people who paid a lot of money to sit in those seats. This is his story!

Kleben did have one big hit, and in this often sweet and often sad biography we get to watch his evolvement as the man who created the great lyrics for “A Chorus Line”. Yes, he worked with the late great Marvin Hamlisch, despite not wanting to do only lyrics, in creating one of Broadway’s greatest triumphs. What we get in this marvelously told story is an insight into what makes a creative talent open his soul to the world. Directed and choreographed by Stacey Flaster, who continues to show her insight and emotional understanding of the characters she takes from book to stage, this is a wonderful production that will have ou laughing at some of the situations and later, find a small tear in your eye. Ms Flaster has put together a delicious cast to bring this story to life, starting with the delightful and powerful Bill Larkin in the role of Ed Kleban. Larking is an energetic ball of fire who gives us all we can ask from a stage performer- he can sing, he can dance, he can play the piano, but of most importance, he brings this man to life as a lovable loser who despite all his craziness is a pure genius. Ed Kleban was in short a “one-hit” wonder and to the credit of this cast, each of the performers makes Ed seem real.

The cast is small in numbers but huge in talent: John Francisco as Bobby and Michael Bennett ( who brings Kleban in to work with Hamlisch) is wonderful as is the very talented Zach Spound who plays a number of characters but truly shines as Hamlisch ( the scenes surrounding “A Chorus Line” are worth the price of admission alone),Jessica Joy is amazing as Mona, Tina Gluschenko as Sophie, the love of his life and inspiration for him to do the right thing is well played,Sharriese Hamilton is divine as Felicia, Michael Glenn adds just the right touch as mentor/teacher Lehman Engel and the adorable Dana Tretta ( who proves that good things come in small packages) is dynamite as Lucy, the woman who changed his life. WOW! is the best way to describe these talented actors who have terrific voices, can dance up a storm and are wonderful story tellers!

We begin the story at what is to be a memorial service to honor him and what we find is the story of his life told through the music he wrote that was never done. Kline and Price used the materials that were left behind after his death to create the story of his ups and downs to illustrate how our lives can be altered by those we associate with.There is a great deal of music used ( his music) to tell his own story and while the songs that you hear are unfamiliar, they ring a bell for realism and aid in telling HIS story. What better way to tell the story of a songwriter than by the songs he himself has written. There are some numbers that are smartly done “Light On My Feet” which is used as a constant reminder that no matter what setbacks hit him,Kleban always bounced back; “Broadway Boogie Woogie” ( smartly done by Tretta) is one that you might even hum on the way out the door; “Self Portrait” and “The Next Best Thing To Love” are also emotional numbers and the “A Chorus Line” segment that shows the behind the scenes work of two creative minds leading up to Flaster’s remarkable staging of “One” make the show very special.Angela Weber Miller’s set is more revue type, but very workable and Bill Morey’s costumes are perfect. Dustin L Derry ( lights),Vicoria Delorio(sound) and Julia Eberhardt( props) are the icing on the cake. I for one plan to see this one again.

You can see this wonderful production at Theater Wit located at 1229 West Belmont Avenue through October 7th with performances as follows:

Fridays at 8 p.m.,Saturdays at 4 and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.

Musical direction is by Beckie Menzie ( a fabulous Cabaret talent) who also handles the keyboards but Doug Peck ( another Chicago success story) will handle the boards on the first week-end and on October 7th. There is no 4 p.m. performance on this Saturday the 8th.

Tickets are $39 ( a solid theatrical value) for all performances- open seating and can be purchased at the box office, by phone at 773-975-8150 or online at www.theaterwit.org. To learn more about special discounts ro season tickets at Porchlight, visist www.porchlightmusictheatre.org

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