“The Landing” is composer John Kander’s first attempt at writing with another lyricist after the late Fred Ebb (“Cabaret” and “Chicago”). Although Greg Pierce’s script and lyrics have many funny and moving moments, the show’s three separate musicals are sketchily drawn and have surprise endings that need more coming before them to have real impact.
Nevertheless, Deep Dish Theater’s first-rate production does its best to minimize any weaknesses with fine acting, sensitive musical direction (Glenn Mehrbach), effective set design (Thomas Mauney) and tight direction (Paul Frellick).
The first, and best, piece is “Andra,” an affecting story of carpenter Ben (John Allore) who is remodeling a house where young Noah (Neil Bullard) and his parents live. At first, the taciturn Ben is put off by precocious Noah’s interfering questions. But a budding relationship forms when Ben gets Noah interested in astronomy, and their outings with a telescope are very father-and-son. (Noah’s stock broker father is never around.) Noah’s mother (Erin Tito) firmly tries to squelch the relationship, her reasons eventually made clear by what Noah inadvertently spots in his telescope one night.
Allore and Bullard beautifully project their characters’ hurts (Ben’s marital problems; Noah’s bully-scarred days), subtly supported by the four-piece orchestra’s intimate underscoring. This lovely miniature whets the appetite, but the succeeding two pieces are far less nourishing.
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“The Brick” is a comic romp about young Darius (Bullard) and his goofy uncle Cliff (Allore) and gangster film-obsessed aunt Charl (Tito). After Charl buys a brick, supposedly from the wall at the St. Valentine’s massacre, it morphs into a gangster (Mark Ridenour) who spins Charl into elaborate production numbers (snappily choreographed by Chasta Hamilton Calhoun). Ridenour and Tito’s strong vocals and knowing parody are highly entertaining, but the one-joke story doesn’t justify its dark ending.
The last segment, “The Landing,” begins promisingly as a gay couple, Denny (Allore) and Jake (Ridenour), bring home their newly adopted son (Bullard). The boy’s strong attachment to Denny hurts Jake until the otherworldly reasons for it are revealed. Ridenour movingly reflects on Jake’s time with Denny, but the story’s brevity doesn’t allow it to resonate fully.
The material’s shortcomings shouldn’t deter avid theatergoers from experiencing the delights of this cast and creative team’s estimable talents and showmanship.