Converting a film classic to a play is not always as easy as it appears to be, and if you convert a drama to a musical, you truly have your work cut out for you. “Sweet Smell of Success” was a movie that truly got to me “on film”- Burt Lancaester played the all powerful gossip columnist JJ Hunsecker and his cohort, the man who idolized him, Sidney Flaco played by Tony Curtis. They were solid and the story about people seeking power, any way they can get it was one that stuck in my mind for years. When they first announced that they were transforming this to a musical, with John Lithgow playing the Hunsecker role and with music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Craig Carnelia and a stage book by John Guare, I wondered how they could do this. I recall seeing the pre-Broadway try-out here in Chicago, and not feeling that they had “hit the nail on the head”.
Years have passed! Things have changed! Newspaper columnists are not what they used to be, but despite over 50 years of :progress” and new ideas of communication, but people are still people and power hungry people still find ways to use others to get what they want.
In this powerful drama ( with music, some might say, rather than a musical), that deals with lust for fame, He has cast Brian Rooney ( a solid JJ) as Hunsecker and David Schlumpf as Sidney. Both of these gentlemen play well off each other and both handle the range of music that Hamisch created for this show. I think it may have been beneficial to cut down the show and keep it closer to the two hour mark instead of the two and a half hours it runs.
As I said earlier, JJ is “the toast of the town” when it comes to gossip ( remember , this was back in the 1950’s) and every press agent wants nothing more that to have his client mentioned in this all important column. Sidney is one of those eager-beavers seeking fame and fortune and will do anything to get his items to JJ. That truly comes out in the second act, in a scene that truly illustrates just how far these people will go to get what they want.
JJ has a sister, who we learn he has raised. There may be even more to his love for her, but in this version, all we know is that he wants only the best for her. Susan, his sister is deftly played by Victoria Blade and her “boyfriend” Dallas ( a solid performance by Nathan Gardner), a nightclub singer, is not good enough for her, according to JJ.
What we have during this show is how Sidney gets to JJ, how JJ uses Sidney, How Susan and Dallas depend on others and yet feel safe and secure. We also have Sidney’s girlfriend, Rita ( sterlingly played by Christina Hall), who is also sacrificed along the way. We have a larger than life ensemble that turly create the tension through song and dance-Madeline Acquaviva,Christine Boulette, Shaun Baer, Mike Danovich, Zach Drane, Kim Green, Jordan Gryzbowski, Rus Rainear, Brennan Roach, Julie Schroll, Stephanie Souza and Stephanie Wohar. Five live musicians under the direction of Aaron Benham on a set created and designed by Zachary Gipson. While the challenge of this young theater company was a huge one, I must say that they handled it well. With each production, Director Glover shows his solid understanding of the script they have selected as well as selection of his actors. Choreographer Steven Spanopoulos uses the intimate stage area to its fullest advantage.
“Sweet Smell of Success” will continue at Theater Wit located at 1229 West Belmont Avenue through February 2nd with performances as follows:
Thursdays at 8 p.m.
Fridays at 8 p.m.
Saturdays at 3 and 8 p.m.
Sundays at 3 p.m.
Tickets are $38 and this is a general admission show ( however if you advise them of a special need, I am sure they will assist you) and can be purchased at the box office, by phone at 773-975-8150 or online at www.theaterwit.org/boxoffice. While the script and music is not up to the original movie, I congratulate Kokandy Productions on a giant leap forward in bringing it to the stage at Theater Wit!
There is street parking in the area ( some metered, some not) and if you are dining at Cooper’s ( a great place to enjoy comfort food) you can park in their lot or you can use the valet service available.