In my last column, I considered the possibility of a new local musical ever making it to Broadway.
I studied up on the cost and the success rates of other recent musical productions. Even after spending $8 to $12 million to produce, roughly four in five shows fail.
Preparing this piece, I wondered if the facts were similarly true about non-musicals.
They probably are. Costs for a play run around $3 to $6 million, but producers are even less willing to take the chance. Currently on Broadway, there are 30 musicals and only 13 straight plays.
As I entered Lincoln Park’s Apollo Theater Chicago to see Dan Clancy’s comedy “Middletown — The Ride of Your Life,” I couldn’t help but wonder how GFour Productions, despite its numerous successes regionally and on Broadway, was going to “make the nut” on this one.
It didn’t take me long to find out. No sets. No costumes. No props. No costly projections. Just four actors standing at four music stands reading their parts from scripts. Sort of like “Love Letters” squared. How simple.
But there was more. They had the good sense to bring in a cast of four experienced and funny men and women with whom their potential audience — basically aging baby boomers and seniors — are most familiar, as well as offering us a sweet and humorous depiction of the lives of two decent couples who were friends for 33 years.
Directed by Seth Greenleaf, the 90-minute play features the well-known comic actress Sandy Duncan of “Peter Pan” fame as Peg. Peg is married to Tom, played by Chicago-born Adrian Zmed who played the role of Vince Romano in the ’80s television series “T.J. Hooker.”
Also from sitcom days when he starred as Ralph Malph on “Happy Days,” Donny Most portrays Don, who is married to Dotty, played by the hilarious Kate Buddeke, of Steppenwolf’s “Superior Donuts.”
These two very typical families take us on their roller coaster ride through life’s highs and lows, as we all experience. The couples learn, as most of us hopefully do, to accept each other and forgive and forget their shortcomings and deal responsibly with troubles we all face.
A batch of common crises are all told in short episodic segments, each of which could be enlarged as part of a boomer “Golden Girls.”
Yet even as the audience becomes emotionally involved in the memory of events in their own lives, they are kept amused by a barrage of corny jokes and dialogue throughout.
Like: “How do you keep a moron in suspense? I’ll tell you later.”
Or: “I’d rather have a son. A daughter steals her mother’s beauty.”
And “Menopause is a time in a woman’s life when if she opens a window you don’t know if it’s for a breath of fresh air or if she’s planning to jump.”
All of which should prove useful should they decide to convert this to a TV sitcom, which they should.
It is a simple story with an endearing cast which will delight anyone’s mom, dad, grandparents or even their overly critical Aunt Minnie.
It concludes with the moral expressed by Ms. Duncan at the end of the show — “To have a friend, be a friend.”
“Middletown — The Ride of Your Life!” runs in Chicago through March 22.