Thursday, February 23, 2012
Chicago's Porchlight Music Theatre serves up a splendid Catered Affair
Porchlight Music Theatre's Chicago premiere of the musical, A Catered Affair, is worth seeing for the wonderful performances by lead actress Rebecca Finnegan and the rest of the perfectly cast ensemble. Directed by Nick Bowling, this show gradually makes you fall in love with its characters during its 90-minute running time - and by the time the curtain call rolls around, you will be glad to have spent an emotional and entertaining evening with them.
A Catered Affair began life in 1955 as an Emmy-nominated teleplay by the Academy Award-winning writer Paddy Chayefsky (Marty, Network). This TV production starred Thelma Ritter, but for the 1956 film version - with a screenplay by Gore Vidal - Bette Davis played the lead role of Aggie Hurley, a disillusioned Bronx housewife who wants to throw her only daughter an elaborate wedding - even though she and her cabdriver husband cannot afford it. Then in 2008, a stage version with music and lyrics by John Bucchino and a book by actor Harvey Fierstein arrived on Broadway starring Faith Prince as Aggie. Having now seen the show, I can understand why it only ran for 116 performances. The musical's intimate story of family dramas probably wasn't a very good fit for a big Broadway stage. But I'm happy to report that this is not a problem at Chicago's Stage 773, where Brian Sidney Bembridge's scenic design makes the audience feel like they are guests in Aggie's home.
My only criticism with A Catered Affair is Bucchino's score, which - although quite pleasant to listen to - isn't that memorable. You will not leave the theater with a song on your lips or an urgent desire to buy the original cast recording. I could easily enjoy this show as a straight drama without any music because the characters are so well-drawn - and exquisitely played. It is very rare for me to recommend a musical without loving its score, but I guess A Catered Affair is the special exception to the rule.
A Catered Affair runs through April 1 at Stage 773 (1225 W. Belmont Ave). Tickets can be purchased online at www.stage773.com or by phone at 773-327-5252.
Below you can watch a behind-the-scenes video for the Porchlight production.