The Dueling Critics 'Shout' about the Marriott Theatre's new production

July 8, 2011

KELLY: Shout is something of a misnomer for this jukebox revue, as most of the songs are from a later period--specifically, 1966-7-8, when Pet Clark ruled the airwaves and the Top 40 was just as likely to feature Broadway-style ballads as rock 'n' roll. But it's a great name for the sensation the Marriott Theatre production produces in its audience, a mix of wonderment and wonderment at the clever use director-choreographer Rachel Rockwell and her cast of five girl singers and eight dancers make of these familiar melodies. They take me back to junior high school, Jonathan, which I presume means you were in your last years of graduate school. I hope that doesn't mean you're too old to share the love!

JONATHAN: Grad school? Kelly, I'd been out in the real world earning a living and paying taxes for 40 years by then! Actually, the original name of this 2008 Off-Broadway revue was Shout! The Mod Musical, and it definitely was a nod to the Brit chick singers of the 1960's, not only Petula Clark but also Lulu and Cilla Black. In reconfiguring it for the Marriott, Rockwell wisely (in my view) opened the show up to include American music, and dropped the "Mod" moniker. It remains, however, a celebration of the big-hair chick singers of the 1960's. It celebrates those few years when innocent early-rock doo-wop met early Motown with a little jazz and r&b thrown in, before the rise of Acid Rock and Heavy Metal. I had great fun at this show, Kelly. The five singers really capture the brassy yet easy-to-take vocal style of the era.

KELLY: Absolutely. And the incidental movement as well as the choreography of the last half of the show complemented the music wonderfully. It was only in the show's first half that the dancing was overdone, so that the male dancers ended up looking like parodies of chorus boys, all fixed smiles and jazz hands. But when Rockwell (and therefore her dancers) stopped working so hard, the movement-music combinations were a delight, particularly in the scene where the five singers performed the famous instrumental opening of Goldfinger ("Waa--WAAAAA-waa!) while one pair of dancers provided a full-stage view of what the movies only let us see through a peephole. Another terrific music-movement mix: the singers' gradual deterioration into stumble-bum drunkenness as four bridesmaids and a bride singing a medley of "I Only Wanna Be With You" and "You're My World."

For the most part everyone looked as well as sounded great, thanks to Nancy Missimi's costume design; but the opening-scene costumes were almost bad enough to turn me off the show entirely. Yes, I know girls wore ugly A-line dresses in bright colors with white piping, but as Mad Men has taught us there are better (longer-slimmer) and worse (shorter-boxier) ways to render those fashions and I leave to your imagination which these are. It's great for a show to get better and better but preferably from a good start.

JONATHAN: I LIKED the costumes, beginning with popsicle-colored mini-dresses and knee-high white boots and progressing to sophisticated cocktail dresses in geometric black-and-white patterns. The sequence of songs, according to director Rockwell's program note, is from early first-love to mature self-love. Indeed, the song list--some 30+ songs in just 90 minutes--supports this, but it never gets in the way. I really liked the orchestrations, too, by Marriott veteran David Siegel, full of horns and rumbling baritone sax. Kick-ass but never overdone. And the Marriott Theatre probably has the finest sound engineering in Chicago. The singers always have presence and never sound like disembodied voices out of a speaker. FYI: that sexy dance to Goldfinger, to which the singers growl jazzy vocalese rather than the lyrics, is what we used to call "an Apache dance" back in my days as a gigolo in cheap French waterfront cafes.

KELLY: Nonsense, Jonathan. I'm sure you were only a gigolo in the most expensive French waterfront cafes, and that the chorus boys in Shout were doing their best imitations of you--just as the singers were doing their best imitations of me, expressing love for inaccessible male teachers by squirming in their seats to the tune of "One Two Three" or warbling soulfully "To Sir With Love." But let's be clear: the strength of Shout isn't in the nostalgia--in fact, some of these ("Georgy Girl," "Windy") may well be songs you'd rather never hear again. But the buoyant presentation makes this trip down Memory Lane into a high-spirited prance that anyone, even those born long after the fact, will enjoy.

As strong as all the singers are, I must single out Raena White as the first among equals. Her rendition of the title tune reminds us that some "girl singers" have the power to lift any song and fling it across the room. It was a real thrill to listen to her work. And Jessie Mueller extends her streak (from Guys and Dolls and Merrily We Roll Along) of outstanding work, continuing to show herself as the up-and-coming musical comedy star in these parts. Do you have a favorite scene or performer to pick out, Jonathan, or are you just lost in a dream of Gitanes and Pernod?

JONATHAN: Back in the '60's, Kelly, we called them "faves" not favorites. I'll go for "Son of a Preacher Man," that sorta' gospel/rhythm-and-blues number that brought the house down. I also thought they did a fine job with "Wishin' and Hopin'" and that quintessential Pet Clark hit, "Don't Sleep in the Subway, Darlin'." Of course, it has an irresistable tune, as did so many of the easy-listening 1960's hits, which is one reason Shout is such a joy. It continues at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire through August 14.