“Burt & Me” at Meadow Brook Theatre a Sweet Treat

Reviewed by Suzanne Angeo (Member, American Theatre Critics Association) and Greg Angeo (Member Emeritus, San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle)

To close out its 52nd season, Meadow Brook Theatre has chosen “Burt & Me”, by Pennsylvania musician, teacher and playwright Larry McKenna.

You don’t necessarily have to be a fan of Burt Bacharach to enjoy this breezy jukebox musical, but it helps. It’s a fluffy, spun confection, like cotton candy. It may be a little too sweet for some tastes. But sometimes, isn’t that just what you need to really unwind these days?

More than 60 years ago, jazz-pop composer Bacharach partnered with lyricist Hal David, and they hit the top of the mainstream pop charts by the mid-1960s with such iconic tunes as “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” and “Do You Know the Way to San Jose”. Their award-winning songs were written for, or covered by, hundreds of major stars of the day, like Dionne Warwick and The Carpenters. Bacharach and David’s music even found its way into hit movie soundtracks like “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and Broadway musicals like Neil Simon’s “Promises, Promises”.

“Burt & Me” is an affectionate homage to the songwriters, the music, and the times. It centers around a guy named Joe as he narrates the story of his teenage self and his romance with high school sweetheart Lacy: Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back again, boy and girl do a lot of singing and dancing in between. With gentle comedy, it chronicles life in Catholic high school, parental relationships, crushes and teen angst.

According to playwright McKenna, the plot is semi-autobiographical – except in real life, McKenna didn’t get the girl in the end. Mostly a comfortable mainstay of eastern regional theatre, “Burt & Me” has yet to break into the big time.

Tim Dolan presents the lead character Joe as a charming boy-next-door with good dance moves and vocals. Darilyn Castillo as his love interest Lacey has the chance to showcase her superb voice and lovely ingenue stage presence. Jason Williams as Joe’s best friend Jerry provides a great comic counterpoint. In a noteworthy performance, Richard Marlatt plays multiple roles, hilarious and touching by turns as Joe’s father, piano teacher Mrs Bernstein, Father DeJoseph and a ruler-wielding nun. Rounding out the perky ensemble cast are Allison HuntKaufmann, Sara Kmiec and Brendan Lindberg.

The production at Meadow Book seemed to be a bit under-rehearsed at the Press Opening performance. Vocals, and some of the instruments, are disappointingly pitchy in spots. But there’s that likeable cast, ably guided by veteran director Travis Walter. And there’s cute, lively choreography by Christopher George Patterson (so excellent in Meadow Brook’s “All Night Strut”).

Musical arrangements are suitably dated to recall the period, but some of the old-timey dance numbers look like they were taken from even further back – like Vaudeville.

The set by Kristen Gribbin is colorful and versatile, presented as vibrant stacks of cubes decorated with singles and LPs. Panels slide out, bearing a kitchen table or a bedroom set, depending on what the scene calls for.

Most of the songs in the show were huge hits half a century ago. For those who went to high school in the 60s and 70s, hearing them again will trigger memories of those times, rushing back like the tide.

“Burt & Me” offers lightweight entertainment with an ending that will lift your spirits. And guaranteed, those songs will be stuck in your head for days afterword. Which is a good thing.

“Burt & Me” is playing at Meadow Brook now through June 24. Show times are 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Wednesdays, and Saturday, June 23; 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays; 6 p.m. Saturday, June 16 ; 2 p.m. Sundays, and 6:30 p.m. Sunday, June 17. Tickets are $28 to $43. Meadow Brook Theatre at Wilson Hall is located at Oakland University – 378 Meadow Brook Rd., in Rochester Hills. More information is available at www.mbtheatre.com.

Meadow Brook Theatre’s season is supported in part by the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Kresge Foundation, the Fred and Barbara Erb Family Foundation, the Shubert Foundation and the Meadow Brook Theatre Guild