By Aaron Thielen
Based on the film by Neal Jimenez, Lindy Laub
and Marshall Brickman
Directed and choreographed by Marc Robin
At Marriott Theatre, Lincolnshire, IL
World premiere stage adaptation sizzles at Marriott Theatre
It has been awhile since Marriott Theatre has mounted a world premiere – and – Aaron Thielen’s For The Boys is a major new work that pays homage to the 1991 film with Bette Midler and James Caan but establishes itself as a play (drama) with songs due to Thielen’s strong book and Director Marc Robin’s swiftly tight staging. Thielen smartly presents Dixie Leonard (the fabulous Michele Ragusa) not as the loud-mouth manic Bette Midler but more of a edgy, self-confident singer-comedian. Thielen also presents song-and-dance man and comic Eddie Sparks (fine work by Timothy Gulan) as not as nasty as the film presented him . These decisions and the outstanding work by Ragusa and Gulan gave this production distinction. The supporting cast featured strong work from Michael Weber as Art Silver, the writer as well as superior turns from Anne Gunn, Bernie Yvon, Michael Aaron Lindner and Melissa Zaremba.
For The Boys follows the story of the 1940’s big band ear singer -Dixie Leonard (who many believe is really Martha Raye) as she becomes the star on many USO tours for servicemen in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. The play focuses on the unique and volatile relationship between Dixie and Eddie (possibly Bob Hope?) as they form a terrific two-person act that thrilled soldiers, concert goers and lead to a TC variety show in the 1950’s.
Featuring a jukebox swing era tune such as “You Are My Sunshine,” “GI Jive,” “Stuff Like That There,” “Come Rain or Come” and the moving “What a Wonderful World,” For the Boys is both a tribute to the bravery of our troops and a story of how the spirit and infectious compulsion to entertain live propels performing artists to risk war to give something to the soldiers. We witness Eddie’s requisite to bring Holiday greeting to the troops and Dixie’s angst from loosing her husband to War. The video and photo transitions added depth and historical perspective to the piece.
For the Boys also deals with 40/50’s ear issues like TV censorship and McCarthyism that found Dixie becoming frustrated as she tried to dial back her sexy references and one-liners for TV. The work features the father-figure that Eddie becomes to Danny as he grows up. Thielen and Robin weave these stories into a most engaging, bouncy and thoroughly entertaining drama and musical. You’s be hard pressed to find a strong book than Thielen presents that Marc Robin swiftly presents with many funny moments, many heart-wrenching moments and many terrific tunes. Act Two’s several telling moments are underscored by several silent pauses that drive home the emotions of the scene.
For the Boys is purposely NOT a rehashing of the 1991 film rather it is an refreshing look at the motivation and quirkiness of the 40/50’s entertainers as well as a tribute to the sacrifices of our troops during war. This is a well crafted piece that works as much as a musical (with a strong book) as it does as a drama with songs. Once we journey over 30 years with Dixie and Eddie, we become nostalgic as they did for the old days as they reunite for an award ceremony. We appreciate their story and we’re glad they took us along. Aaron Thielen and Marc Robin have mounted a fresh take on a tuneful era.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: August 26, 2011
At Marriott Theatre, Rt 22 & Milwaukee Ave., Lincolnshire, IL, www.marriotttheatre.com, 847-634-0200, tickets $41-49, Wednesdays at 1 & 8 pm, Thursdays & Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 4:30 & 8 pm, Sundays at 1 & 5pm, running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with intermission, through October 16, 2011