A Musical about Musicals
Music and Lyrics by Edward Kleban
Book by Linda Kline and Lonny Price
Direction & Choreography by Stacy Flaster
Music Direction by Beckie Menzies
Emotionally charged backstage musical a major triumph for Bill Larkin, Stacy Flaster and Porchlight Musical Theatre
Led by the stunningly emotional and totally honest tour de force performance by Bill Larkin as the nerdy, mentally challenged composer, Edward Kleban, director Stacey Flaster has cast a fast-paced flowing musical with terrific talents anchored by the fabulous work from Bill Larkin. Featuring two dozen songs from prolific composer Edward Kleban, A Class Act is a backstage musical touted as “A musical about musicals.” It is, indeed, a glimpse into how a musical is created as well as a look into the learning process that aspiring composers go through in workshop to polish their craft.
The musical is a totally honest (worsts and all) into the life, personality and achievements of Edward Kleban (1939-87) who died at age 48 after writing the lyrics for A Chorus Line in collaboration with Marvin Hamlisch and Michael Bennett. Kleban’s friends Linda Kline and Lonny Price created an insightful book honestly telling Kleban’s life story. Along the way, we heard major songs from Kleban’s songbook. We learn that Kleban was mentally challenged, a perfectionist, an obsessive creator with self-destructive tendencies. We grow to empathize with the charming, quirky, and self depreciating Kleban. He is a balding, over weight and quite ordinary fellow who is smitten with the song writing bug . He is conflicted between his career as a record publisher and his dream occupation as a Broadway musical composer. Much of the musical shows his time at a “How to” workshop for fledgling composers. We meet his close friends and his soul mate, Sophie (Tina Gluschenko) as we learn how his moods shifts alienates him from his friends and is love, Sophie.
Throughout, Kleban narrates his tribute from the grave as flashbacks retrace the highs and lows of his life including his inspirations and his antics that interfered with his success as a composer. Each of the two dozen Kleban tunes establishes a particular moment in Kleban’s life. We hear his melodic score and his witty, smart and, often cryptic , lyrics containing rich meanings and fine rhymes. Containing a complete sampling of Kleban tunes ranging from bluesy to charming to bouncy to cute tunes to pure Broadway, Kleban’s talent emerges. From songs like “Light on My Feet” to “Fridays at Four’ to “Paris Through the Window,” the variety and distinct Kleban style emerges as the cast deftly lands each tune. Dana Tretta, John Francisco, Sharrise Hamilton, Zach Spound, Michael Glenn, Tina Gluschenko, and Jessica Joy each have their moments to shine. Francisco is a hoot as Michael Bennett; Zach Spound channels Marvin Hsmlisch while Tina Gluschenko exudes warmth as Kleban’s true love. Beckie Menzie does yeoman’s work on the grand piano as the cast sings and dances up a storm in a tribute to Edward Kleban’s songbook.
But what makes the show work on a deeply felt emotional range is the winning performance from Bill Larkin. He plays Kelban with total commitment, compelling emotions and a winning self deprecation in one of the most empathetic performances seen on a Chicago stage in years! Larkin sings, is quite comic, and acts his heart out and completely becomes Kleban. The scene that depicts Kleban and Hamlisch struggling with their egos while attempting to collaborator in writing A Chorus Line was richly emotional as the two gradually came together as each’s talent emerges to layer the Hamlisch’s music upon Kleban’s lyrics. WhenKleban sings “At the Ballet” and Hamlisch pays those perfect notes, the two forms combine into that familiar song. That was a true “Ah Ha” moment. The same effect happened when Kleban uttered “What I did you Love…” Add the cast dancing to the glorious anthem “One” as the emotional power of A Chorus Line was celebrated as Kleban’s major artistic triumph. That moment was deeply felt by all.
Kudos to Stacey Flaster’s tight, evocative production was sure was “A Class Act!” Get to Theater Wit to see Porchlight’s A Class Act so you can learn about Edward Kleban and enjoy a fine musical with an assortment of terrific tunes and a heartfelt character sketch. Don’t miss this gem!
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For more info checkout the A Class Act page at theatreinchicago.com
At Theater Wit 1229 W. Belmont ave., Chicago, IL, call 773-975-8150, www.theaterwit.org, tickets $39, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 4 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm, running time is 2 hours, 15 minutes with intermission, through October 7, 2012