Thursday, September 6, 2012
Go see Bill Larkin and the fabulous cast of Porchlight Music Theatre's A Class Act
Edward Kleban was the brilliantly talented lyricist of the musical, A Chorus Line. He was also a funny, neurotic and frustrated man who died at the age of 48 in 1987 after many years of struggling to achieve even greater success. But his 1976 Tony Award for Best Original Score as well as the 1976 Pulitzer Prize for Drama remained the professional peaks of his career. However, in 2001, Kleban's longtime companion, Linda Kline, and actor/director Lonny Price brought him back to Broadway with A Class Act, a show about his life featuring the many unpublished songs that he wrote. And now Porchlight Music Theatre is giving this musical its Chicago premiere in an outstanding production that I highly recommend everyone go see.
Director Stacey Flaster deserves kudos for making this musical move so seamlessly from one time period to the next as it tells Kleban's story in flashbacks from the 1988 memorial service held by his friends. And the ensemble cast could not be better, including Michael Glenn, Jessica Joy, Tina Gluschenko, Sharriese Hamilton, Zach Spound (who has an amusing turn as composer Marvin Hamlisch), Dana Tretta (whose rousing Act 2 solo, "Broadway Boogie Woogie", is a highlight) and John Francisco (who nearly steals the show as director/choreographer Michael Bennett). The show's music director, the always wonderful Beckie Menzie, also appears onstage to play the piano. But the main attraction of A Class Act is, of course, Mr. Kleban himself - and Chicago actor Bill Larkin shines brightly in this starring role. It is definitely an award-worthy performance, and one of the best I've seen this year. Larkin perfectly captures all the eccentricities, humor and sadness of his complicated character.
I think Edward Kleban would love Porchlight's production because his marvelous music is sung by so many exceptional voices. And despite the poignant throughline of Kleban's memorial service, A Class Act is no depressing downer. Instead, it is filled with much joy that celebrates the meaning of friendship and the triumph of composing a damn good song.
A Class Act runs through October 7 at Theater Wit (1229 W. Belmont Ave). Tickets can be purchased online at theaterwit.org or by phone at 773-975-8150. And for more information about Porchlight Music Theatre, visit porchlightmusictheatre.org.
Photos are by Jeremy Rill, and below you can watch a promo and a behind-the-scenes video for the production.