Chicago Theatre Review
Hangin’ With the Oldies at Mr. Kelly’s
Hang Your Hat at Mr. Kellys – Three Cat Productions
By Lazlo Collins
“Hang Your Hat at Mr. Kelly’s” now playing with Three Cat Productions at Chicago Park District’s Berger Park, is a journey through time to relive the many years of performances at Mr. Kelly’s supper club.
Mr. Kelly’s was a supper club on Rush St. in Chicago where jazz singers and comedians alike appeared on its intimate stage. The small stage and acoustics made it a must stop in Chicago for talented late night performance. It opened in 1957 and closed in 1975. It was owned by George and Oscar Marienthal. The performers at Mr. Kelly’s were as varied as the clientele. Some of the stars that played on the nightclub circuit appeared at Mr. Kelly’s, and are still around today.
This show is, at its heart, a jukebox musical. “Hang Your Hat at Mr. Kelly’s” not only tells the story of the performers and the supper club, but uses the story of an old man who worked there to weave the decades and performances together.
Winston (lovingly played by Todd Neal) appears to the audience in a nursing home. He is clearly struggling with mundane cooperation. His new roommate Dak (Paul Pasulka) appears to help Winston remember to ultimately bring him peace. Winston talks to the performers as if he were right there in the club. The performers remember Winston’s polite manner and his fried chicken recipe. Both were extraordinary.
Dak gets settled in on the bed next Winston’s and the evening begins.
There are four performers that cover most of the heavy lifting, and singing. The four performers cover several decades throughout the show.
Nicole Michelle Haskins brings elegance, great acting, and solid vocal chops to all the people she portrays. Her range is refreshing and incredibly deft. Miss Haskins takes on Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn and Natalie Cole. She is joy to watch and listen to in all her treasured transformations.
The second performer from the past is Demetreous White Jr. Mr. White plays a handsome Jackie Wilson. He also cuts his chops on a young AND old Richard Pryor. He can croon a great tune with personality and charm.
Another multifaceted performance from Sara Reinecke is on the set list. Mr. Reinecke takes on Mamma Cass, Barbra Streisand and Joan Rivers. This powerful vocalist brings the goods to all her songs. She is a joy to watch.
Rounding out the cast of performers is Jason Michael Hammond. Mr. Hammond is in charge of the emcee duties, but he really shines when he is channeling Barry Manilow and Mel Torme. He has a beautiful voice and has a serious, but playful delivery. He is charming all around.
The trio band has a tight and professional sound that adds to the supper club mood and sound. Not too overpowering and setting the right tone for the evening’s events. Jeff Poindexter on the piano leads Jackson Kidder on bass and Will Cooley on drums for a full and rich sound.
The Mr. Kelly’s showcase for great performances and great American songs is at one level exciting, and provides a provocative backdrop for a show. Using Winston as the vehicle for remembering the time and place of Mr. Kelly’s gives the musical a satisfying melancholy feeling; however, it can also get in the way of the play. The performers, as they interact with Winston, seem to interrupt the flow instead of moving the story forward. The play (lovingly written by Jarrin Davis) will evolve over time. It moves to go deep, but it can be confusing at times. Winston’s health and his connection with Dak are confusing.
Although much of the music is recognizable standards, but the original compositions by Gary Gimestad with lyrics by Rob Dorn are absolutely beautiful. They are appropriate and fresh. They create the memory passages for the audience.
Directed by Jason Paul Smith, this is an ambitious piece of theater. This unusual jukebox musical is complex. The choices for moving the show along are varied. He pulled great performances out of his actors.
I did not know what to expect with this show. I was pleasantly surprised. The talent is strong and varied.
Hang YOUR hat at Mr. Kelly’s. The music and talent will transport you. You will want a drink, some fried chicken or maybe some Green Goddess Dressing.
“Hang Your Hat at Mr. Kelly’s” plays through May 17th. Make your reservations for a love small table and let yourself remember.
For tickets go to www.threecatproductions.com or call 312-970-9840
For more information on this and other shows please visit Theatre in Chicago is www.theatreinchicago.com