World Premiere of “For the Boys” at Marriott May Leave Patrons Wanting More

Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire sets national regional theater subscription records for its ability to leave audiences walking out wondering how they do it.

Pulling off such big musicals … in the round … with top-tier talent … where every seat is great … and for such a fair price.

But leaving the theater’s current offering, the world premiere musical “For the Boys,” based on the Oscar-nominated film starring Bette Midler, even patrons who enjoy their evening’s entertainment have to leave with other questions.

In a show about the USO and a cast of 25, where were the big musical numbers?

Was it just me, or did that seem a lot longer than two hours?

And even with these questions, why did I still like it so much?

“For the Boys” is a fictional depiction of a comedy-vocal duo (Dixie Leonard and Eddie Sparks) who entertained troops in three wars, spanning 39 years. At its heart, it’s a drama about the ups and downs of a work relationship that becomes downright personal, set to an American songbook with standards like, “Come Rain or Come Shine,” and “What a Wonderful World.”

Along the way, intimate issues of grief, parenthood and infidelity are explored alongside the realities of WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Communism and censorship. The production’s use of projected images effectively illustrates the passage of time. Poignant scenes illustrating the wartime losses of Dixie’s husband and son are the show’s most memorable moments.

Broadway and national theater veterans Michele Ragusa (Dixie) and Timothy Gulan (Eddie) shine with bawdy humor and terrific vocals. But sparse use of other cast members and an overall feeling of choppiness could easily be fixed with some editing and three large production numbers.

Indeed the show drags, particularly in the second act, when it becomes more drama than musical. And the final scene, reuniting the pair at a National Medal of Freedom ceremony following a 14-year estrangement, elicits the same visceral reaction experienced when handlers haul out Dick Clark for just one more New Year’s Eve appearance.

All nits aside, I actually liked “For the Boys.” Its story is redeeming. Its characters are real. It is excellently performed. And Marriott Lincolnshire is perhaps the best venue in Chicagoland to take in a show.

It just could have been so much more.

“For the Boys” runs through October 16 at the Marriott Theatre, Lincolnshire; tickets are $41-$49 and are available at 847-634-0200 or marriotttheatre.com

About the author: Barry Reszel is a Libertyville-based writer, at-home dad and executive director of the not-for-profit entertainment company Liberty Town Productions.