“Leader of the Pack”


Musical *****Musical biographies are often difficult to view as an audience, as in many cases, the person we are being told about is not as interesting as the work they brought to us.Ellie Greenwich is probably not a name you are familiar with, but take a trip down memory lane into the 1960′s and think about some of the music you danced to; songs like “Be My Baby”, “Why Do Lovers”, “And Then He Kissed Me”, “Hanky Panky”, “Chapel of Love”, “look of Love” and of course “Leader of the Pack” and this is her music. For a portion of her career in the music world she was partnered with Jeff Barry, who later became her husband and then her ex, but the music they did together still remains and is still heard on radios, in elevators, and at many a social function at a high school. This is Ellie Greenwich!

“Leader of the Pack”, with a book by Anne Beatts ( based on the original play by Melanie Mintz) is a touching biography filled with music that will have you clapping your hands and tapping your feet, but of greater importance, it will have you thinking back to your youth as you listen to songs that will bring back happier days in your life. Big Noise Theatre Company, under the direction and choreography of Nancy Flaster does a bang-up job with this musical, and while the book itself is weak, the dancing and voices  we get to witness on the stage  at The Prarrie Lake Theatre in Desplaines is worth the trip.

Led by  Christie Burgess as Ellie and Tommy Thurston as Jeff Barry, two very bright talents, this energetic cast  keeps the story humming along with the music. When it comes to voices, a true standout is Pascale M. Trouillot, who begins the show with”If  You Were Around in 1963″ and Danae Ervin as Annie Golden ( who’s “Be My Baby” along with her back-ups Danielle Davis and Krysten Willams is outstanding). Ellie’s high school best friends, who also take on many other roles are played by the adorable Penny S. Shack and Kelly Maryanski , who is also a featured dancer along with Mark Kominskey  in “Look of Love”. I might add that Flaster used the entire stage for this sensational number and these two dancers were perfect in every step.

Smaller musical theater troupes always work at a handicap as they don’t have the big budgets that the Drury Lane, Marriott and Theater at The Center’s have, but somehow, someway, Big Noise, finds a way to bring a class act to the intimate stage of this theater with a set by Rick Paul, unbelievable costumes by Patty Halajian ( these performers must have changed costumes every 4 minutes), smooth lighting by Matt Kool, great sound design by Richard Neumann and four musicians that sounded like an orchestra, Michale Goldman ( conductor),John Summers,Nick Anderson and Brandon Schreiner( these are the unseen heroes in a musical, along with the solid music direction  by Robert Deason). This is indeed a strong production of a weak book, but the cast, the music and the energy created by Ms Flaster ( and her assistant Ann Fink) makes this a production worth seeing.

“Leader” is only around for a short time, through May 13th- weekends only

Tickets are only $24 ( $22 for seniors) and $16 for kids 12 and under and can be ordered by calling 847-604-0275 or online at www.bignoise.org

The theater is located in DesPlaines – Prairie Lakes Theatre, 515 E. Thacker Street.  Dempster at Wolf Road- go west a block and you will see the building with lots of free parking.