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Marriott’s ‘My One and Only’ a glorious throwback



♦ Through Jan. 6

♦ Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Dr., Lincolnshire

♦ Tickets, $40-$48

♦ (847) 634-0200;

Updated: November 16, 2012 3:31PM

Long before the advent of “dark musicals” — shows like “Sweeney Todd,” “Les Mis,” “Spring Awakening” and even “Carousel” — there was the pure froth and frolic and playful romance of the early years of American musical comedy.

Although “My One and Only” was created in the early 1980s(the book is by Peter Stone and Timothy S. Mayer), it harks back to the pure fun and fancifulness of a much earlier time on Broadway in its style and storytelling. And its score incorporates the altogether foolproof songs of George and Ira Gershwin, inserting them in ways that make them feel wholly conversational and perfectly in synch with the characters singing them. On top of all this, as director-choreographer Tammy Mader’s easily effervescent Marriott Theatre revival suggests, there is something irresistible about a witty yet altogether unadulterated, feather-light, dance-til-you-drop entertainment.

The time is 1927, and Capt. Billy Buck Chandler (the ageless Andrew Lupp, who continues to make this role his own, exuding the grace and charm of both Fred Astaire and Mikhail Baryshnikov), a barnstorming aviator and self-confessed Texas hayseed, is in New York. He is preparing to become the first man to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.

Also in the city is Edythe Herbert (Summer Naomi Smart, whose sultry voice, ideal accent and lovely dancing make her ideal for the role). A beguiling sophisticate who achieved stardom by swimming the English Channel, she is now the celebrity headliner in an aquacade show. She also is being blackmailed by a sleazy impresario, “Prince Nikki” (Roger Mueller, who even earns hisses as the villain).

When Billy and Edythe meet at a Prohibition era club in Harlem, the sparks are instantaneous. But of course the flight plan to true love runs into any number of impediments and distracting adventures.

Along the way, Billy is tutored in the finer points of “High Hat” romancing by way of Mr. Magix (Ted Louis Levy, that show-stopping maestro of tip-tap-toeing tricks), the ultra-cool proprietor of the Tonsorial and Sartorial Emporium. And The New Rhythm Boys (the exuberantly synchronized Quinn M. Bass, Jarran Muse and Clinton Roane), also help move Billy toward his goal through their blissful harmonizing and fancy footwork. They cannot, however, save Billy from learning some hard lessons on his own. Nor can Billy’s intrepid engineer, Mickey (Paula Scrofano in top comic form), who tries to keep him focused in spite of his romantic obsession. As for the Reverend J.D. Montgomery (Felicia P. Fields at the ready) she just spreads the gospel of vice, pleasure and redemption.

Mader, who has a great comic sensibility and easy gift for propelling a story, is an undisputed high priestess of theatrical dance magic. And her work here is sublime, whether she is animating dancing mermaids and harem girls, overseeing tap spectaculars with iridescent canes and spats (the ensemble is delicious throughout), or staging a big splash by way of the teasing romantic duet between Billy and Edythe danced out in a circular wading pool.

That pool is a crucial element in Thomas M. Ryan’s set — one of the most ambitious designs ever devised for Marriott’s in-the-round stage. (Stay in the theater at intermission to see all that is involved.) And, as ever, Nancy Missimi’s costumes easily match anything you’ll see on Broadway in both glamor and sheer volume.

And then there are those uncanny Gershwin boys (and the fine musical direction of Michael Mahler). Let’s just say the Gershwins remain undisputed masters of “Kickin’ the Clouds Away.”

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