Playwright: book, music & lyrics by Will Clinger and James FitzGerald
At: Theater Wit at the Theatre Building
Phone: ( 773 ) 327-5252; $30
Runs through: April 22
There's these two guys, one skinny and one stout, named Will Rice and Jimmy Shine. After a traveling carnival leaves them stranded, they pool their talents in a song-and-dance act called 'Rice and Shine.' Soon they're starring on the vaudeville circuit. But then Rice is offered a film contract—without his partner. He takes it, the movie flops, and he's reduced to doing baggy-pants burlesque. Shine, meanwhile, struggles as a solo performer. Oh yeah, and there's a girl—Louise Chapelle, a smartcracking warbler who refuses to choose between her two stubbornly-devoted suitors.
Does this story sound familiar? It should, since it comprises the vehicle for innumerable backstage musicals churned out by Hollywood from 1930 to the present day, with a touch of roman à clef thrown in for titillation. Think Bob Hope and Bing Crosby—you recognized the Dorothy Lamour surrogate, didn't you?—or Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, or Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. After that, you don't need to think any more—you KNOW everything's gonna end happily with the status quo unchanged.
All right, so plot's not important. What IS important are the musical numbers reflecting a variety of period styles, supplied by the songwriting duo of Will Clinger and James FitzGerald. The score for this parody of/homage to the 'Road' flicks and their ilk encompasses such generic staples as the sentimental 'Normal, Illinois', the ersatz-exotic 'Neath the Mucka Mucka Tree,' a few romantic ballads ( one rhyming 'dance', 'CHAMPS-Elysée' and 'FAN-cy free' ) and the obligatory hymn to fraternity, 'Friends to the End.'
Director Jeremy Wechsler never allows the madcap mayhem to slip into chaos. Katrina Williams Brunner's dances, Angela Webber Miller's scenic design and an agile stage crew shepherded by Lara Maerz likewise keep the slapstick antics always in control. But the evening belongs to Clinger and Bret Tuomi as the mischievous Rice and Shine, along with Lindsey Pearlman as the luscious Louise and Kingsley Day as the tombstone-faced Piano Player. Together, they keep the wit and sparkle coming in such abundance that we hardly notice that two hours have gone by.