Saturday February 24th 2018

“Lady X: The Musical” reviewed by Jeffrey Leibham

Highly Recommended****  “Lady X: The Musical” was not the show that Hell in a Handbag Productions had announced to open its 15th anniversary season with. When 20th Century Fox got wind of the fact that Artistic Director David Cerda was planning on mounting a production of “Valley of the Dolls” by Jacqueline Susanne they slapped him with a cease and desist order. Instead of pursuing a long legal battle, which would have amounted to nearly $30,000 in legal fees, Cerda and company were left scrambling for a last minute replacement. Fear not! Based on Hell in a Handbag’s 2010 play of the same name, “Lady X: The Musical,” which is receiving its world premiere at cozy Mary’s Attic, is a zany, hilarious and rioutous romp of a show.

If you are a fan of the black and white crime melodrama films of the 1930’s you really must see this show. Cerda, who is credited with writing the book and lyrics, has very generously borrowed the key plot lines from several Warner Brothers mob movies. The heroine, Mary Dwight (the terrific Christea Parent) works as a hostess at a sleazy nightclub which has a floor show as well as offering more adult entertainment for its regular Johns. Joining her at this fleshpot are fellow show girls Gabby (Caitlin Jackson), who has quite a strong cocaine and booze addiction, the harmless but academically-challenged Emmy Lou (Elizabeth Lesinski), the beautiful and bubbly Ruby (Sydney Genco) as well as the old work horse Estelle (Ed Jones), who has been in the biz for ages and acts as a surrogate mother to the rest of the gals. They all live together in an apartment above the club.

Enter the mysterious Scarlet Fontanelli (David Cerda), who has recently bought the seedy nightspot and sings about it in “The Girls at My Joint.” Mary dreams of a better life away from the grind in the hilarious “House on the Hill,” and Gabby shows off her pipes as she belts out “Flim Flam Floozy” to all of the partons of the joint. Soon their is the unexpected arrival of Mary’s sister, Betty (Steve Love, who co-directed this production with Tommy Bullington and did all of the choreography too). Naive Betty plans on moving in with the girls but is mislead to believe that they are all scientists to disguise their true vocation (“We Do Science”). Also snooping around is Frank Graham (Laura Coleman), a young idealistic Assistant District Attorney who seeks vengeance for the death of his sister, Barbara, who died in a questionable fire supposedly set by the gangster Fontanelli family (“Lady Justice”). The first act concludes with a rousing “Night on the Town” performed by the entire ensemble.

Much mayhem –and murder– continue in the second act. “Bad Betty” finds the once perfectly coquettish Betty now more brazenly following in her sister Mary’s footsteps of high society parties and multiple male paramours. She and Emmy Lou have a nice tap dance routine and Estelle has a sweet little number (“A Lovely Pair”) with her much younger and charming beau Val (Chazie Bly). As the body count climbs so do the laughs, as true identities are revealed and they all have “A Big Happy Ending.”

The mega-talented Scott Lamberty has composed a score that covers many different styles and tempos. No stranger to Hell in a Handbag Productions, Mr. Lamberty has also done work for the equally campy Corn Productions. The costumes, designed by Kate Setzer Kamphausen, are perfect for the period, especially for the chorines, who have so many costume changes that the small backstage changing area must be very cramped. Also, the amazing wig design is by Keith Ryan.

Because all of the principles in this show are Hell in a Handbag Ensemble Members and many are reprising their roles here, they have honed their comedic timing to impeccable precision. Ms. Parent and her female counterparts keep this peppy musical zipping along at breakneck speed. Come on along and enjoy a splendid “Night on the Town.”

For the first show to open their 16th season, David Cerda should consider doing a production of “Hazel.” Ed Jones should play the lead. Dressed in his matronly house dress and wearing his wig of tight ringlet curls he is a dead ringer for Shirley Booth in that early 1960’s hit TV show. Just a suggestion!

Hell in a Handbag’s “Lady X: The Musical” runs through June 8th at Mary’s Attic, 5400 N. Clark St., Chicago.  Running time is one hour, 50 minutes, with an intermission.

Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 pm

Sundays at 6:00 pm.

No performance on Sunday, June 4.  Tickets range from $26-$38.  Street parking is the only option in this neighborhood.  FYI (800) 838-03006 or www.handbagproductions.org

To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “Lady X: The Musical”

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