Neil Simon’s “The Goodbye Girl” began life as a 1977 movie prequel to an abandoned Simon project called “Bogart Slept Here” that was devised to showcase the extraordinary chemistry between Marsha Mason and Richard Dreyfuss (Dreyfuss won an Oscar for his performance). Shrewd playwright Simon had wanted to turn the successful film into a play, but it took more than a decade and a half for that to happen, brought about by composer Marvin Hamlisch’s desire to turn the property into a musical following his own huge success with “A Chorus Line.” Simon held out for casting control and it wasn’t until Bernadette Peters and, believe it or not, Martin Short in his Broadway debut became involved—with a tryout right here in Chicago that fired the show’s original director and revised the work considerably—that the show finally made it to the Great White Way where it was a huge success. Enter Marriott Lincolnshire, which had lyricist David Zippel come in to direct a remount and revise the work further, add nearly another decade and a half and Chicago director Gary Griffin’s choosing it as his homecoming return vehicle to Drury Lane Oakbrook following his own huge successes on Broadway, reuniting Griffin with Susan Moniz, who had starred in several previous Drury Lane Griffin-directed shows. The end result is a fascinating collaboration that is the most streamlined version of the show to date, but there are some bumps along the way. The material, with its outdated references to “Knot’s Landing” and even a Richard Simmons parody that would be a groaner even back when the exuberant exercise guru was a part of pop culture, is hopelessly outdated, to say nothing of its really old-fashioned “love and marriage” ethos, comes off like a period piece now. The relationships are well in tact here, particularly mother and daughter and the tension between the leads, but we never buy that they fall in love, more that they have become a “Three’s Company” trio. The songs and dances are well served, though, and the production values and cast are exceptionally strong. (Dennis Polkow)
It’s impossible not to wonder if “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story” would have been written had the eponymous rock-and-roller not died such a tragic and premature death in a plane crash nearly fifty years ago. Because, as Drury Lane Oakbrook Theatre’s production of co-authors Alan Janes and Rob Bettison’s 1989 musical bio-drama proves, Holly’s death seems to have been the dramatic highlight of an otherwise un-dramatic life and musical career: Holly gets dropped by his label; Holly resists musical assimilation; Holly has an acrimonious split with his longtime band; Holly marries a Hispanic woman. All in all, pretty tame stuff faced by any artist rockin’ and rollin’ during a period when that genre was considered, as a memorable line from the play reminds us, “a communicable disease.” And although I can’t speak from a place of musical authority as might a rock critic or journalist, the play’s twenty-something sampling of Holly’s undeniably feel-good and toe-tapping songs nonetheless suggests at best a canon of music characterized by pleasant melodies and anodyne lyrics. Nothing wrong with that, and quite frankly it’s a lot more than today’s top-40 offers, but for the non-baby-boomer free of nostalgia it’s difficult to see—or hear—what the groundbreaking sound and influence is. Things aren’t helped by the fact that the musical gives us nothing of Holly’s formative years—indeed, how did a white kid from Lubbock, Texas, start playing and develop his sound? That this revival gets as much entertainment mileage as it does is a credit not only to director Tammy Mader’s polished production but also to actor Justin Berkobien’s exuberant performance in the title role. If the real Buddy Holly could have been described as possessing “the sex appeal of a telephone pole” that’s certainly not the case with Berkobien, a great-looking actor who looks like Clark Kent incarnate—tousled brown hair, blue eyes and a Midwestern Boy Scout’s charming eagerness-to-please. Along with the confident presentation of Holly’s songbook, as well as the play’s period authenticity, he’s the best thing in this entertaining if dramatically lightweight piece of Holly hagiography. (Fabrizio O. Almeida)
At Drury Lane Oakbrook Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace. Thu 1:30pm & 8pm/Fri 8pm/Sat 5pm & 8:30pm/Sun 2pm & 6pm/Wed 1:30pm. $22-$41.50. Through Jul 27.
On paper, at least, I found this an irresistible concept, i.e., making a jukebox show out of those long-forgotten mod British pop gems of the 1960s. And while there are some laughs and some fun in this show very much in the Rowan & Martin’s “Laugh-In” tradition (complete with go-go dancing used to punctuate one-liners) this show really misses the spirit of the sixties by miles. First, the arrangements, which are keyboard-centered and feature no guitar (nor electric bass), which is played left-handed by a keyboardist. And the keyboards used are not vintage and make no attempt to emulate sounds of the day, like Farfisa organs. Second, the clothes, which are such caricatures and do not even resemble the fashion of the time. Third, where are all of the color organs, man, and the black lights and the incense? And if you’re going to sing songs made famous by the likes of Lulu and Petula Clark, shouldn’t there be some attempt to bring in some pipes that can really nail these songs? Much of the dialogue of the show is a “canned” track of a British advice columnist and this also has a disastrous effect on the timing of the live performances. If you’re going to do a show about a time when there are at least some people in the audience were actually there, best to get consultants from the era itself or at the very least, do your homework. Or perhaps this show is counting on the old stereotype that “If you can remember the sixties, you weren’t there, man.” (Dennis Polkow)
At Drury Lane Theatre, Water Tower Place, 175 E. Chestnut, (312)642-2000. This production is now closed.
For those who wondered what all of that singing was doing interrupting the graphic murders in Tim Burton’s grisly and humorless slasher film “Sweeney Todd,” Stephen Sondheim’s original work is back in town complete with all of the music and humor that was cut from the film with as much tact as if old Sweeney himself had been doing the chopping. No, this isn’t the full boat version served up with full chorus and orchestra as done here by the Chicago Symphony at Ravinia and at Lyric Opera, this is the scaled-down Broadway chamber music version on a national tour where a talented cast of nine sings each role and plays the musical accompaniment on stage along with themselves. It’s a considerable feat, the kind of concept that would be perfect for a more intimate theater but which becomes somewhat lost in the wings of a cavernous house such as the Cadillac Palace. For those who know and love the work, this virtually cabaret-like treatment will be a treat and a meaningful, even if a stiff and concert-like rendering of what is arguably Sondheim’s greatest work. But for those new to the story and the work, the entire cast remaining on stage for the entire show and playing instruments even after a said character has already been, say, killed off, will be a dramaturgical disaster for keeping track of who’s who and what’s what. But if the Demon Barber of Fleet Street can survive undubbed movie stars hacking their way through a truncated score, this approach is a long way up from such cut-throat treatment. (Dennis Polkow)
At Drury Lane Oakbrook Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace. This production is now closed.