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Review: ‘Darling Grenadine’ enlivens Marriott stage

Katherine Thomas and Heath Saunders in a scene from “Darling Grenadine” at Marriott Theatre.
Katherine Thomas and Heath Saunders in a scene from “Darling Grenadine” at Marriott Theatre.

LINCOLNSHIRE – Ever since its opening in 1980, Marriott Theatre has drawn audiences with an abundance of first-class productions of popular musicals. That’s still the focus, although in recent years, Marriott also has made a concerted effort to add brand-new works to the mix.

“Darling Grenadine,” an engaging bittersweet musical now making its Midwest premiere at the Marriott, is the latest such arrival.

This work features an insightful book, music and lyrics created by Daniel Zaitchik.

In the program notes, Zaitchik remarks on how in cinema and music theater there’s a long tradition of telling the backstage stories and personal journeys of artists. “I wanted to play around with the tropes of that tradition – embrace them, challenge them.”

Zaitchik said he chose recognizable stock characters – “the up-and-coming actress, the charismatic composer, the witty bartender – and attempted to let them be real, substantial people.”

Smartly directed and choreographed by Aaron Thielen, “Darling Grenadine” comes with a small but seasoned cast. It’s led by Harry (Heath Saunders), a charismatic singer-songwriter who struck it rich with an advertising jingle that he composed. But instead of living the American dream, Harry discovers life on Easy Street isn’t so easy.

When Harry turns a blind eye to his growing dependence on alcohol, the door opens to real-life heartbreak.

Katherine Thomas appears as Louise, a talented, but self-doubting performer in the chorus line of a Broadway musical. She meets Harry at the Manhattan piano bar where he works, and a relationship between the two quickly develops.

Meanwhile, Harry’s longtime best friend, Paul (Nick Gosgrove), a gay bartender, sorts out their ties.

Another character named “Paul” is Harry’s adorable dog: a life-sized Labrador retriever – a marionette infused with life by Phillip Huber. The master puppeteer is joined on stage by trumpet player Mike Nappi.

Rounding out the cast in a number of roles are Allison Sill and Brandon Springman.

Saunders’ mellow, beguiling singing voice shines in “Grenadine” and “New Year’s Day,” while Thomas reveals an expressive vocal range in “Paradise.”

Music direction by Ryan T. Nelson with Patti Garwood’s music supervision are right on the money.

If you go . . .

WHAT: “Darling Grenadine”

WHEN: Through Aug. 18

WHERE: Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire

COST: $50 to $60

INFO: 847-634-0200;

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