Top-tier talent, choreography trump story in 'One and Only'
You can hardly blame folks for humming a Gershwin tune or breaking into a time step as they make their way to their cars following a performance of "My One and Only."
Marriott Theatre's infectious revival of the 1983 jukebox musical is just that good.
"My One and Only"★ ★ ★
Location: Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire, (847) 634-0200, marriotttheatre.com
Showtimes: 1 and 8 p.m. Wednesday, 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 4:30 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 5 p.m. Sunday through Jan. 6
Running time: About two hours, 20 minutes with intermission
Tickets: $40-$48; dinner-theater and New Year's Eve packages available
Parking: Free lot adjacent to the theater
Rating: For all ages
Note: People sitting in the first few rows may get splashed during "'S Wonderful."
The production has plenty going for it, beginning with George and Ira Gershwin's score (served up hot and jazzy courtesy of conductor Patti Garwood and her orchestra) and director Tammy Mader's sparkling choreography.
Then there are the winning performances from Andrew Lupp and Summer Naomi Smart, who are about as winsome a twosome as any musical theater fan could want. The combination is more than enough to put a smile on your face and spring in your step.
All that's left is the book. Unfortunately, that is what this confection, originally conceived for Tommy Tune, lacks.
The story -- which unfolds in 1927 and offers a gentle condemnation of the hollow pursuit of fame -- is silly, even compared to the frothy musical theater fare that dominated stages during the early 20th century. The whole thing feels artificial, with the mostly Gershwin standards ill served by the tale writers Peter Stone and Timothy S. Mayer have stitched together.
Lupp (Chicago's answer to Fred Astaire, with superior vocal chops) plays Captain Billy Buck Chandler, a flyboy determined to be the first to cross the Atlantic Ocean solo. In New York City preparing for his flight, he becomes enamored with Edythe Herbert (Smart, the dimpled dynamo), a comely swimmer who achieved fame swimming the English Channel and maintains it as the star of an aquacade show.
Against the advice of his trusty mechanic Mickey (another appealing turn by the consummate singing comedian Paula Scrofano), Billy pursues the urbane Edythe.
He gets help from the Reverend J.D. Montgomery (the ever sassy Felicia P. Fields), who ministers to lost souls by day and runs a speak-easy by night. She introduces Billy to Mr. Magix (Ted Louis Levy, who taps his way our hearts), a most debonair barber who advises the self-described Texas hick on how to woo a sophisticated lady. That upsets the plans of blackmailing producer Nicolai (a nicely villainous Roger Mueller), who wants to keep his leading lady for himself.
Also on hand are the New Rhythm Boys (the smooth-as-silk trio of Quinn M. Bass, Jarran Muse and Clinton Roane), a tap-dancing Greek chorus in white tie and tails who epitomize cool sophistication.
Frankly, the show all feels rather contrived, with scenes seemingly created to showcase exotic locales and glittering costumes (lovely work from Nancy Missimi, whose whimsical pageant wear and rainbow-colored mermaid outfits are delectable).
But Mader and her top-flight ensemble overcome those weaknesses. In fact much of the show's success rests with Mader's fresh, buoyant choreography and the palpable joie de vivre that animates every step this tireless cast executes.
A pair of tap dance spectacles bookend the show, which opens with a jubilant "I Can't Be Bothered Now" setting the devil-may-care tone that persists through "Kickin' the Clouds Away," which concludes the show with a Flo Ziegfeld flourish.
Smart's torchy rendition of "Nice Work If You Can Get it" reveals a voice that has deepened and matured since her breakout turn in Drury Lane's "Sweet Charity" four years ago. And Lupp's invigorating "Strike Up the Band" is so good you don't mind that the song doesn't fit the context.
Ultimately, a pair of delightful duets stop this show. The first is a splashtastic dance number featuring Lupp and Smart -- an endlessly enthusiastic, ever-agreeable pair -- who sing the breezy " S' Wonderful" while dancing barefoot in a cleverly conceived wading pool. The second pairs Lupp and the masterful Levy for a blisteringly brilliant tap showdown set to the title tune, during which Levy urged audience to reserve their applause, hinting there were bigger fireworks to come.
He wasn't lying.