By: Michael Heitzman, Ilene Reid and David Holcenberg
At: Apollo Theatre, 2540 N. Lincoln
Phone: 773-935-6100; $46.50
BY SCOTT C. MORGAN
By hosting the Chicago premiere of Bingo: The Winning New Musical, the Apollo Theatre is hedging its bets for another long-running show with a built-in demographic. And can you blame them? The Vagina Monologues and Menopause: The Musical both targeted women and were theatrical gold mines.
Bingo is a fun-loving trifle of a musical that revolves around three women who are best friends braving a killer storm to get their weekly bingo fix. But when a young stranger shows up on this fateful night, we learn that the trio of friends once was a quartet that splintered apart due to an argument over ( what else? ) bingo.
The material here isn't going to be short-listed for the Pulitzer Prize anytime soon, nor does it provide continuous dramatic tension to fill 90 intermission-less minutes. ( Why else would there be the throwaway, but still very funny, song regarding a misguided off-off-Broadway musical adaptation of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest? ) . But Bingo authors Michael Heitzman, Ilene Reid and David Holcenberg make the show hummable and campy enough to keep you laughing. ( A few drinks from the lobby bar help, too. ) The best bonus is the interactive factor when audiences get to play along for 'real-life prizes.' ( Once you see the show, you'll get the joke. )
If the material is good-to-adequate, the Chicago cast under Glenn Casale's speedy direction is great. Each and every actor could easily be shoehorned into a hit sitcom as a funny sidekick or for a cameo appearance ( and they all sing well, too ) .
As the grudge-bearing Vern, Cheryl Avery revels in her smoky-voiced bitterness and veteran bingo status. Avery's Vern is plenty fun explaining the ins and outs to bright-eyed bingo newbie Alison ( Natalie Berg, who shines in the aforementioned Cuckoo number ) .
Neda Spears gets to inject some good gospel crooning as the good-luck-charm-obsessed Vern, while Renee Mathews' deadpanning as bingo hostess Minnie hits her jokes every single time. Anne Gunn's brief appearances as estranged friend Bernice also generate much mirth.
What little romance there is in Bingo revolves around the great trailer-trash pairing of the much married and pregnant Honey ( a delightfully ditzy Jacquelyn Ritz ) and the ex-con bingo caller Sam ( a silly and butch-armed Steve Calzaretta ) . Their racy dream dance duet to Terry Berliner's suggestive choreography is perhaps the only thing in this fun and lightweight show that might raise the eyebrows of your visiting red-state relatives.
In many ways, Bingo targets the Apollo Theatre's similar demographic of women it has catered to for the past few years. The difference with Bingo is that more men are likely to be lured in, especially since they won't be frightened away by titles about 'the change' or hoo-has on the marquee.