Over the years, I have enjoyed hopping on the expressway to make the trek to Munster, Indiana ( just about 20 minutes from the loop) where I have seen some wonderful productions directed by several of Chicago’s finest directors, including veteran Bill Pullinsi ( who over the years was instrumental in the fabulous productions at Candlelight and Forum in Summit) and has made the Theatre at The Center a shining example of what regional theater should and or could be. In some cases, play selection for a season can be a difficult task, and head on the heels of a special production of “Singin’ In The Rain” at Drury Lane Oakbrook ( a true smash of the year) needless to say, bringing on a new play that is about the making of the film , opens up territory for a lot of conversation. The current production, “What A Glorious Feeling”, now on stage at Theatre at The Center, written by Jay Berkow is supposed to “pay homage to one of the greatest movie musicals of all times, as a play with music, using actual music from the production and the era. Supposedly it goes into the life of Gene Kelly ( who is played by the ever sharp, solid dancer /performer, Richard Strimer). This is supposed to be an exploration of Kelly’s loves, his partners, his desire and determination and from the press notes, we are told that we will get into the depths of his temper, his problems and his power over those around him. I did not see as much as I would have wanted to learn about one of film’s greatest dancers, choreographers and personalities. We all loved him and his work, but after seeing this little peek into the making of the film, I am afraid that some people may just lose this caring feeling.
The production is approx. 2 hours long with an intermission, but would have had a little more of an impact with some wasted dialogue eliminated, bringing it down to a 90-100 minutes, no intermission show. That might help, but of greater importance, a tightening of the belt when it comes to the script is the first step in curing the problems of this new show! The set is a sound stage at M-G-M and while Angie Weber Miller did a great job in making this appear to be real, it is the very final piece of the set, a look at the actual number of “Singin’ In The Rain” as performed to perfection by Strimer that truly makes the trip to Munster worthwhile. Danny Herman’s choreography is tight and for those of you who enjoy tap dance and modern dance, you will get your money’s worth in this production.
Yes, the script is weak, but thank goodness for the powerful cast, who in this cases make silk out of a sow’s ear: William Underwood ( the musical director) plays Kenny the pianist ( a fine job of creating some great music along with Jamie Martinez on the Bass)- they truly make us hear the music as we watch the dancing on the stage. The lovely long-legged Cara Salerno is a sexy Jeanne Coyne, Kelly’s able associate ( and perhaps lover); Nicole Miller is an adorable Debbie Reynolds ( a young , ver naive, Debbie Reynolds); Robert Hildreth handles the role of producer and friend Arthur Freed and I guess the surprise of surprises is the performance by Alex McCrary as Director Stanley Donen ( the estranged husband of Ms Coyne and “best friend” of Kelly). This is a role that has been somewhat plagued in this production. The original cast member had to leave the show, which is why the reviewers were asked to wait a week so that Steven Spanopoulos could be better prepared. We were spread out over this week-end and what do you know? Something happened in production to Spanopoulos and so we were called and texted that yet another person would be taking on this role for today’s performance- Alex McCrary. I must tell you that he appeared on stage as if he had been playing this role for weeks. His dance technique was excellent, never missing a beat and there is a lot of high swinging dance for this character to play. It is not often that an understudy gets to be reviewed, so since we all were on our way to Munster, I said, let’s do it! Let’s see just how strong this show is? And most of all, with the busy schedule of openings, when would I have another opportunity to come to Munster?- Alex- I applaud you and your other cast members for an excellent job of building a fun afternoon despite a script that has no meat and substance. I was still entertained!
All theater cannot be perfect! All shows will not get Jeff nominated! All shows will not make you as delighted as others, but one thing I can say, with songs like: “Moses Supposes”, “Broadway Rhythm”, “How Could You Believe Me”, “You Were Meant For Me”, “Good Mornin'” and of course, “Singin’ In The Rain ( done several times)”, you will be humming and tapping your foot- and with the great dancing and the final production scene, you will have a lasting memory of this experience. Brenda Winstead’s costumes were very right for the period, Charles Cooper’s lighting and Barry G. Funderburg’s sound along with the props by Lauren Earnshaw complete the package and my only hope is that the cast can stay healthy until the end of the run ,which is scheduled throue June 2nd with performances as follows:
Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.
Sundays at 2:30 p.m.
There are also some select Saturdays at 4 p.m. and some Thursday evening performance- you might want to check the website for actual days and times.
The tickets range from $38- $42 and can be purchased at the box office, located in Munster at 1040 Ridge Road, by phone at 219-836-3255 or online at www.TheatreAtTheCenter.com
There is plenty of FREE parking and there are some performances where a dinner/lunch package can be added. There is an art gallery at the Theatre, so come a bit early and open your eyes to some wonderful works as well.
To see what others are saying, and I am sure this production will be as varied as one might imagine, go to www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “What A Glorious Feeling”