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Review: For The Boys (Marriott Theatre)

By Chicagotheaterbeat @chitheaterbeat


Review: For The Boys (Marriott Theatre)

For The Boys

Written by Aaron Thielen
Directed by Marc Robin
at Marriott Theatre, Lincolnshire (map)
thru Oct 16  | tickets: $41-$49  | more info

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The war(s) must go on


Review: For The Boys (Marriott Theatre)

Marriott Theatre presents


For The Boys

Review by Lawrence Bommer

When showbiz met slaughter, a curious hybrid evolved–the USO show. That’s the constantly changing but maddeningly familiar backdrop for the 1991 Twentieth Century Fox movie starring Bette Midler and James Caan, roughly based on the careers of big-mouthed Martha Raye and ski-nosed Bob Hope.

Now transformed into a world premiere musical by Marriott Theatre artistic director Aaron Thielen, For The Boys spans 40 tempestuous years to celebrate the tried-and-sometimes-untrue partnership between celebrated songstress Dixie Leonard and crowd-pleasing yukster Eddie Sparks as they entertain a very vulnerable audience—the troops who fought in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

FOR THE BOYS Johnny Rabe and Michele Ragusa
Along the way we’re delighted by old favorites (“You Are my Sunshine,” “I Wish You Love,” Come Rain or Come Shine,” “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,””Rag Mop,” “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?,” “What a Wonderful World”) and less-known charmers (“What Will Santa Claus Say?,” “Christmas Island,” “Botch-A-Me,” “I Remember You,” “West Point March”). The trip down Memory Lane is unabashedly nostalgic, even as it contrasts with equal generosity the footlit hoopla with the backstage heartbreak.

With help from Sage Carter’s superb video backdrop (including real-war footage and photoshopped pictures of Dixie and Eddie in vintage locales), Director Marc Robin, a master at turning lead into gold, takes a predictable plot and shapes it into solid moxie: For The Boys can hold its own as a docu-musical just as the film did as a vehicle for the Divine Miss M.

When Sparks and Leonard accidentally team up in 1942 to perform at a London soldiers’ canteen, they have no idea how many more such shows will follow. At first Dixie is really doing it for her soldier husband. (Like many in her audiences, her offering is the last simulation of home he’ll ever have.) Then it’s for the joy of giving the guys a reminder of what they’re fighting for. After her devoted husband becomes one more casualty, Dixie enters a virtual, decade-long musical marriage with the acerbic Sparks.

Eddie dislikes the sexual innuendoes with which she laces their acts. She hates the way he’s become a corrupting surrogate dad to her – now their – son Danny. When they become stars of a CBS variety show in 1952, Dixie’s outspoken ad libs take their toll with the sponsors and the network. Plus it’s the height of the “Red Scare”: Dixie has to defend her Uncle Art against absurd but paranoid charges of Communist disloyalty. (He rightly attacks the Korean War as ill-conceived and badly managed, like the next one—Vietnam—that Sparks and Leonard will medicate with song and dance.)

A crisis that will separate the stars for 14 years erupts when Dixie accuses Eddie of using his self-promoting wartime tours to recruit soldiers like Danny for early deaths. The final scene, when the now-legendary duo receive National Medals of Freedom from Reagan in 1981—provides a long-delayed perfect excuse for a tearful reconciliation.

Review: For The Boys (Marriott Theatre)
Review: For The Boys (Marriott Theatre)

Review: For The Boys (Marriott Theatre)
Review: For The Boys (Marriott Theatre)

Though she lacks Midler’s brusque sassiness, sometimes seems too nice for Dixie’s hard-boiled chanteuse and occasionally forgets to be ethnic enough, Michele Ragusa sells her songs with style (and ages believably): She can belt out a ballad when her heart is breaking well enough to break ours. A hard-drinking, harder-edged contrast to Dixie’s self-conscious crooning, Timothy Gulan’s Eddie is calculatedly impulsive. This stage vet can send a zinger to the last row and blends in with Dixie as if they were hitched by the William Morris Agency.

Strong support comes from Anne Gunn as back-up confidante Loretta Brooks, Michael Weber as the censored uncle, and reliable Bernie Yvon as the gag writer with a joke for every frontline. Finally, Jameson Cooper’s soldier-boy Danny stands in for every G.I. Joe in the audience–except that this headliner is also his mom.

There are second-act problems: The action moves so fast that the sometimes gratuitous friction between Dixie and Eddie is inferred when it should be set up in order to make us want it resolved. Also because of the smaller cast, this production lacks the big dance numbers that Marriott Theatre has spoiled us into an addiction. (A few Lindy hops and jitter bugs plus an Andrews Sisters recreation and that’s it.) Still this IS a Marriott show, folks, so nothing goes wrong for long, not when it’s “for the boys.”


Rating: ★★★


Review: For The Boys (Marriott Theatre)

Marriott Theatre’s For The Boys continues through October 16th at Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire (map), with performances Wednesdays 1pm and 8pm, Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 4:30pm and 8pm, and Sundays at 1pm and 5pm. Tickets are $41-$49, and can be purchased by phone (847-634-0200) or online at More information at

All photos by Peter Coombs




Michele Ragusa (Dixie Leonard) ; Timothy Gulan (Eddie Sparks); Anne Gunn (Loretta Brooks); Summer Smart (Margaret); Michael Lindner (Sam Schiff); Bernie Yvon (Wally Fields); Johanna McKenzie Miller (Luanna Trott); Holly Stauder (Gloria); Michael Weber (Art Silver); Melissa Zaremba (Victoria Lee); Katheryn Patton (Evelyn); Rod Thomas (Band Singer); Jameson Cooper (Michael); John Michael Coppola, Alex Goodrich, Karl Hamilton, Andrew Mueller, Brandon Springman, Zachary Keller, Johnny Rabe, Daniel Coonley, Conlan Ledwith (ensemble)

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