Marriott’s ‘Hero’ has super heart
Alex Goodrich (left) and Erich Bergen in "Hero" at Marriott Theatre. | Photo by Peter Coombs and the Marriott Theatre
Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire
1 p.m. and 8 p.m. Wednesdays; 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays; 4:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays; and 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. Sundays; through Aug. 19
$40-$48, plus tax and handling fees. Discounts available for students and senior citizens. Dinner and theatre tickets, $55, are available Wednesday and Thursday evenings
(847) 634-0200 or visit www.marriotttheatre.com
Updated: July 4, 2012 4:48PM
There’s a world premiere musical at the Marriott Theatre, and it does everything right.
“Hero,” with words and lyrics by Michael Mahler and conceived and written by Aaron Thielen, has hummable tunes, smart lyrics, a comical couple, a tortured pair and a story that goes straight to your heart. Plus the first-act ending is a powerful cliff-hanger.
Set in a comic book shop in Milwaukee named “Brew City Comics,” the musical begins with an assortment of characters singing a knock-out number titled “My Superhero Life,” which begins with the words “If life were like the comics.”
It is not, of course, so don’t worry about superior beings leaping buildings in a single bound. There is a phone booth, but it’s just for making calls.
The leading man, played by Erich Bergen, is named Hero and he’s a mild-mannered, 28-year-old comic book artist still living at home. His Dad, a good-hearted widower named Al Batowski (Don Forston), can’t quite push his son out of the nest.
You can understand why. Brew City Comics is a world unto itself, a comfy if a little thread-bare haven for guys having trouble growing up. Those guys, frankly, who don’t seem to have a life.
She’s back in town
Into this modest world walks Jane, Hero’s high-school sweetheart, played by the marvelous Heidi Kettenring. They haven’t seen each other for 10 years and she is back in town after a divorce. She’s taken a job teaching and like Hero, is living with her family.
The boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl thing has already happened before the curtain goes up, and the question is whether Jane and Hero, now a decade older and hopefully wiser, will realize they are right for each other.
This isn’t the only story. Hero has a zany, hyper-active cousin Kirk, played by the hilarious Alex Goodrich, who is sure he can shake Hero out of his isolation by dragging him out to meet girls.
Kirk’s wise-cracking younger brother, Nate, is portrayed by the adorable Jonah Rawitz. He’s 12 going on 40, and both he and Kirk ratchet up the comedy every time they are on stage.
In fact, it is Kirk who meets a new girl, Susan, Jane’s buttoned-down teaching colleague, portrayed with perfect comic timing by the lovely Dara Cameron. Kirk, who never makes a move without his guitar, serenades her with possibly the world’s nuttiest love song, “A Vampire’s Kiss Means Forever” and soon she is bitten er, smitten, and throwing her inhibitions to the winds.
The casting is superb. Bergen, who played Bob Gaudio in the “Jersey Boys” national tour (though not in Chicago), has a strong voice and is able to pull off the most touching scenes.
Kettenring is a Chicago favorite, a show-biz wiz-kid with an authenticity that shines through every character she plays. Her duet with Bergen, “That’s My Kryptonite,” rises above comic-book jargon and is as charming as any good love song.
Framed by losses
The drama is framed by two sad losses, each of which causes Hero to retreat into himself and reject Jane’s love. Keeping faith with the spirit of the American musical, Thielen has penned a happy ending. But one wonders how long the buoyant Jane will be able to keep Hero afloat before life throws him another curve and he begins a new battle with depression.
Composer/lyricist Michael Mahler is a Northwestern University grad who wrote more than 50 songs for the WAA-MU show. After graduation he and Alan Schmuckler wrote the highly successful “How Can You Run with a Shell on Your Back?”
For “Hero,” Mahler has written beautiful ballads and lively show tunes, all with strong, graceful lyrics. One of those numbers is “The Start of Something Good.” That certainly could be said about this very entertaining show.