Chicago Theatre Review
Walking Through Walls
Amour – Black Button Eyes Productions
A lyrical, romantic fantasy is bringing the Summer season to a close. This enchanting musical, with a lush, lilting score by Michel Legrand, and clever lyrics by Didier Van Cauwelaert, is adapted by Jeremy Sams from a 1943 short story entitled “Le Passe-Muraille.” The story is set in Paris, shortly after WWII, and is about Dusoleil, a shy, unassertive young office worker whose life is simple and mundane. A lonely young man, his only joy is catching an adoring glimpse of Isabelle, a beautiful, young woman who lives nearby, who’s been kept under lock and key by her boorish husband, Charles.
One day Dusoleil discovers he’s acquired the unique ability to walk through walls. Suddenly his life isn’t quite so mundane and Dusoleil becomes a local celebrity, renamed Passepartout by the press. Like Robin Hood, Dusoleil steals from the rich and gives to the poor. While he becomes the object of every Montmartre lady’s affection, Dusoleil has eyes only for Isabelle. With his newfound fame, the once painfully shy young clerk finds he’s acquired the confidence to court Isabelle, who’s equally enamored by mysterious Passepartout’s celebrity status. Complications arise when the kind young thief is arrested and Charles, Isabelle’s brutish, jealous husband, turns out to be the Prosecutor for the case. However, in the courtroom, some surprising new revelations come to light that change everything.
Skillfully directed by Ed Rutherford, who seems to have a penchant for musicals infused with magic or the supernatural, this production is disarmingly delightful. It isn’t a groundbreaking musical and it wasn’t well-received in its 2002 Broadway debut (although it fared much better at Goodspeed, three years later). The story, however, is sweet, romantic and filled with hope. It features a cast of nine talented actor/singers, many of whom portray different characters. Economically staged in the tiny first floor studio space, with choreography by Derek Van Barham, the show sports superb musical direction by Nick Sula, as well as providing brilliant accompaniment by the backstage instrumental quartet. This production has the look and sound of a light operetta.
Michael Lewis’ pastel, impressionistic set, whimsically accented with squiggly-framed doorways and windows, is flexible enough to allow characters to come and go quickly. Often built for fast changes, Beth Laske-Miller’s evocative costumes help delineate each character. Chazz Mallott’s lighting design washes the stage with bright illumination, keeping the story in the spotlight. Sometimes Robert Hornbostel’s sound design, however, doesn’t allow the audience to hear every performer.
Brian Fimoff is sweet, gentle and earnest as the hard-working office employee, Dusoleil. He brings an honesty and freshness to the role that’s so appealing and identifiable. Mr. Fimoff nicely underplays his role, allowing the other, more bizarre characters around him to shine. However, at times it becomes difficult to hear or understand him, which isn’t the case with the other eight actors. In this modest theatre venue, that shouldn’t be a problem.
Emily Goldberg is, as always, stunning in the role of Isabelle. Not only flawlessly beautiful, this actress once again proves why she’s one of Chicago’s finest, more talented actor/singers. Jeff nominated for BoHo’s “Dogfight,” Ms. Goldberg creates an Isabelle the audience truly cares about and cheers for in her quest for love. Her lovely rendition of “Somebody,” as well as her duets with Fimoff, namely “Special Time of Day” and the title song, are all gorgeous.
It’s difficult to single out any one member of this gifted ensemble. The always brilliant Kevin Webb is, once again, spectacular, whether as Dusoleil’s obnoxious, but very funny boss or as a put-upon policeman. Missy Wise is deliciously delightful, both as an amorous office worker, Claire, and as the jaded, outspoken Streetwalker. Mikaela Sullivan soars vocally as Madeleine, Tommy Thurston is very good as the Painter, Matt McNabb brings his musical prowess to the Doctor, and other characters, and Greg Zawada is properly menacing and overbearing as Charles.
However, the standout of this ensemble of talented singers is Scott Gryder. With his rubber-faced reactions, his unmatched vocal ability and his energetic portrayals of an office worker, a News Vendor and Dusoleil’s eager new lawyer, Gryder is an actor to watch. While he’s already appeared in a few local productions and cabaret performances, this young actor/singer has a future in leading character roles.
Charming, perfectly sweet, entertaining and whimsical, Ed Rutherford’s latest production is pure Summer Magic. The ability to draw the audience into this adult fairy tale must be commended, with much of the credit going to both a superb cast and Nick Sula’s terrific musical direction. Primarily sung-through, this fanciful story, stuffed with hummable music and peppered with clever lyrics and singular rhymes, winningly walks through walls.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented September 2-October 8 by Black Button Eyes Productions at Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available at the box office, by calling 773-935-6875 or by going to www.amourchicago.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.