"Windy City,” Walnut Street Theatre Season Opener
Makes ”The Front Page” A Headliner!
It’s magical when an audience realizes that the musical they’re watching (in this case ”The Windy City”) deserves a standing ovation by the middle of the first act. There’s a special energy in the air as the songs build on each other, the vaudeville shtick works, the set and lights synchronize beautifully, the actors realize that their moments are going to work - the whole audience seems to hold its breath for the next song, joke or moment. The newly revised “Windy City,” music by Tony Macauley, book and lyrics by Dick Vosburgh, with additional material by Tony Macauley, which opened the 198th season of the Walnut Theatre can only be described as a bona-fide smash.
Based on the often revised and revamped ’28 hit “The Front Page” by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, “The Windy City” tells the story of newspaper reporters covering the shenanigans of corrupt Chicago politicians and their bosses. Railroading an innocent socialist reformer to the electric chair for their own underhanded motives, these hooligans are led and bedeviled by a young star reporter, Hildy Johnson and his maniacally manipulative editor, Frank Burns. Hildy has fallen in love and has promised to leave the dirty newspaper business. But there’s that one last story - the execution of the young socialist reformer. Mr. Burns will stop at nothing to keep Hildy on the job. The script overflows with stereotypes and stock situations from the American stage and the movies. In its last reincarnation, “Windy City” was a London hit that toured briefly in the United States to Chicago and Paper Mill Playhouse, in New Jersey in the early 80’s. Unfortunately it never made the transition to Broadway.
Luckily for us, Tony Macaulay at the request of Walnut’s Bernard Havard, proves that there’s life in the brazen American musical! Macauley provides his actors with musical moments that both inspire and explode. He has the ability to shift us from the poignancy of Molly Molloy’s ballad “I Can Talk To You” (beautifully sung by Denise Whelan) to the almost Brechtian “Molly Has her Say”, then bring us back to the raunchy “Red Hot Honey Like Me,” belted well by Hildy’s love interest Natalie (Cristin Boyle). From the moment we meet all the reporters (a collection of every vaudeville type from slap-stick clowns to an effete poetical artistic writer, Bensinger, brilliantly wafted by Peter Schmitz), we know we are in for a show. Through the hilarious keystone cop antics of the Sheriff (Stuart Zagnit) and the Mayor (David Brummel) to the slick tenor of Hildy Johnson (David Elder) to the lying machinations of big baritoned-voiced Chief Editor Burns (ably played by Paul Schoeffler), the show doesn’t stop for a second. Credit for dynamic direction and choreography to Mark Robin and for the slick as silk set and lighting design to Robert Andrew Kovach and Paul Wonsek. The entire company knows how to pull out your heartstrings, take a pratfall, and then pull you up for a standing ovation.
“Windy City” is cut from the cloth of the classic musical – with “76 trombones,” “a parade passing by,” and a reason to ”Climb Every Mountain.” If that’s what you’ve been missing is the great American Musical, go see “Windy City” at the Walnut Theatre, through October 22, www. Walnut Street Theatre. Org.