For those of us growing up in the Rust Belt, dinner theater was the ultimate all-in-one entertainment option. I would purchase my Prime Rib-Pygmalion combo ticket months in advance, waiting for the dusty costumes and faded sets to ship in from some bygone regional theater production. The performance would usually star a long-retired soap opera star and the meal wasn’t much fresher.
Well, times have changed. For decades, Chicago’s suburbs have been home to dinner theater venues like Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire and Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook. They are the filet mignon of dinner theater, regularly snagging Jeff Awards (Chicago’s equivalent to the Tony Awards) and Broadway-caliber talent. This season is proving to be another grand slam for the theaters, which are producing timeless classics along with new works. Currently, Andrew Lloyd Webber seems to be the flavor of the month.
Sunset Boulevard, directed by Drury Lane Theatre’s Artistic Director William Osetek, plays through March 24. It is the final show in a season committed to works inspired by movies. Sunset Boulevard’s original Broadway production won seven Tony awards including Best Musical.
This production stars Christine Sherrill as Norma Desmond, a role originated in London by Patti LuPone and on Broadway by Glenn Close. Chicago Theatre Review said, “Miss Sherrill is luminous in the role made famous on film by Gloria Swanson. Christine deliciously dominates the stage in every scene, whether playing Norma as the spoiled, self-deluded diva, the coquettish aging sex kitten or the desperate, wounded martyr.”
Head north of Chicago to Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire, where the best of Chicago’s musical theater performers have staked their claim for more than 30 years. Currently under the watchful eyes of Executive Producer Terry James and Artistic Directors Andy Hite and Aaron Thielen, the venue sells more than 400,000 tickets per year.
Currently playing is Now and Forever: The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber. This compilation of some of the composer’s most notable works also features two of Chicago’s leading ladies: Linda Balgord and Susan Moniz.
Balgord is no stranger to Webber’s work. She appeared as the final Grizabella in Cats on Broadway and played Norma Desmond in the First National Tour of Sunset Boulevard. Moniz delivered a legendary performance as Eva Peron at Drury Lane in the 90s and has been belting her way throughout Chicagoland ever since. Now and Forever runs through March 24.