Music and Lyrics by John Bucchino
Directed by Nick Bowling
Music Director Doug Peck
Produced by Porchlight Music Theatre
At Stage 773, Chicago
Gloomy chamber operetta filled with weak voices
A Catered Affair was based on the 1956 Bette Davis film and a Paddy Chayefsky TV play, is now a sort of chamber operetta filled extended recitative or singing dialogue that eventually breaks into a few actual songs then becomes a spoken dialogue drama that turns into an operetta again. One of the main problems with this structure is that the show is filled with actors who are not singers except Rebecca Finnegan. When you have loads of recitative early on sung so weakly as not to be understood, drowned out by a string quarter, the show doesn’t grab you. Why all the singing dialogue?
The story is an equally puzzling one. It is a work about ordinary sad folks who seem to trug along in live. Just after losing their son in the Korean War (it is 1953), Tom (Craig Spidle) and his wife Aggie (Rebecca Finnegan) must decide whether to spend their life savings on the family taxicab or spent it on a lavish wedding for their daughter Janey (Kelly Davis Wilson). But Janey and her finance Ralph (Jim Deselm) don’t want a big wedding. Add the closeted uncle and brother of Aggie, Winston (Jerry O’ Boyle), who sleeps on the family couch, and you have a melodrama trying to be a musical.
This poorly sung show (with exception to Rebecca Finnegan’s three haunting anthems) is a bittersweet reflection on the sad lives of the folks in the Brooklyn apartment complex who are still living the Depression Era lifestyle in post-World War II America . Tom (Craig Spidle) is a tired, defeated by life, taxi driver; Aggie is an unhappy, stoic housewife filled with grief (for her lost son) and guilt for not paying more attention to her daughter. That a lavish wedding that the couple doesn’t want and the family can’t afford will solve all the relationship problems is preposterous. The contrived plot twists only make this gloomy show harder to take since we don’t empathize with anyone here. The kids should elope; the parents could satisfy their guilt with money instead of the catered affair and the taxi business should be solidified.
The 95 minute slowly paced musical does have a nice string with piano and reeds music (fine music direction by Doug Peck) buy the melodies are filled with melancholy. They overwhelm the singers at times. The singing dialogue together with the wrenching ballads and anthems give the piece an soft foreboding lifelessness. At the show’s end, there is a glimmer of hope for the loveless family – just a sliver. Perhaps casting stronger singers to surround Finnegan would help but ultimately scrapping the singing dialogue would be best. I’d advise making A Catered Affair into a drama with songs. As it plays now, A Catered Affair is mixed bag of operetta, melodrama, and musical theatre- with the music as the main treat.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: February 21, 2012
For more info checkout the A Catered Affair page on theatreinchicago.com
At Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago, IL, call 773-327-5252, tickets $38, Fridays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm, running time is 95 minutes without intermission, through April 1, 2012