Kevin Bellie was the genius behind Circle Theatre’s latest unique event”the May 28 meet and greet with Sweet Smell of Success composer Marvin Hamlisch. Hamlisch is an Oscar, Grammy, Emmy, Tony, Golden Globe, and Pulitzer Prize winner that Bellie was pleased to announce as plain and simply a “Broadway legend.”
The event last Sunday began with a 2 p.m. brunch in which Hamlisch enjoyed key lime cheesecake while casually chatting with attendees who paid the $30 all-inclusive ticket price. That price included a follow-up performance of Hamlisch’s Sweet Smell of Success, starring Michael Mahler with standout performances by Mahler and actress Darci Nalepa. Sitting towards the front right of the house, Hamlisch unnoticeably blended in with the audience.
Following the show, the final question-and-answer session was a highlight of the day. The vast majority of the audience stayed for the Q&A, as actors from the show quickly grabbed any available seats, packing the back theater, even lining empty spots on the staircase and leaning against the walls in order to listen to the discussion between the cheerful and relaxed Hamlisch and the highly articulate theater critic and journalist Jonathon Abarbanel.
Hamlisch and Abarbanel sat mirroring each other, legs crossed similarly and even placing their twelve-ounce Dasani purified water bottles the same distance away on the miniature table between the two. Taking on the appearance of a living yin-yang symbol, Abarbanel was dressed all in white while Hamlisch sported a black suit.
It was Hamlisch’s dress though that fit in with the set behind them, a shadowy background with the feel of New York nightlife that was the world of the play, and in many ways probably the world of Hamlisch as well. Bespectacled, Hamlisch had the regal demeanor of Bruce Wayne (with a touch of Wayne’s butler Alfred), yet the unassuming disposition of a ninth grade biology teacher. When he spoke, there was a complete authority to his words, and the audience responded with silence and utter concentration, the type of admiration of true fans.
Hamlisch reciprocated by theatrically recounting his days from being one of the youngest students to ever study at Juilliard to his multi-award winning successes on Broadway and on the big screen, and he did so with humor and the natural gifts of a storyteller, even at one point breaking into song to sing the chorus to “Earth Angel.”
At one of Hamlisch’s anecdotes an audience attendee even leaned over to a nearby friend to whisper, “He’s funny.” There’s a bit of a ham to Hamlisch. There was also a large supply of gratitude as well.
Circle’s performance of Sweet Smell of Success is only the second production ever of the musical, making its remounting a historic event for fans of Hamlisch’s work. Hamlisch was repeatedly thankful for Circle’s effort to ensure the musical finds an audience despite the original 2002 Broadway production’s commercial flop due to its unlucky placement within a struggling post-911 economy.
On having a production flop, Hamlisch said brazenly, “Yes, it does hurt. I don’t care how successful you are.” But then he followed up by saying, “The pain has been ninety percent lifted by seeing this wonderful production.” The earnestness from the comment comes from the pour-your-heart-out effort from the Circle cast and that is all thanks to the combined originality and hard work of Bellie.
Bellie, inconspicuous, was one of those leaning against the wall during the Q&A session, but there was a feeling that if anyone should have been on the stage beside Hamlisch it should have been him. A large part of the success of the event and Circle Theatre as a whole is due to Bellie, who is one of the most active and important members of Forest Park, consistently bringing Jeff Award quality productions to the community.
Abarbanel acknowledged this by saying, “Circle Theatre has a way of finding lost gems.” Circle Theatre in this instance is really Bellie, the man who had his pulse on Chicago theater and the guts to risk bringing a show that did not have initial critical reception. But Bellie believed in the show and believed that there was a Forest Park audience that would receive it with open arms.
“Forest Park loves entertainment and this is the most accessible musical in the world,” said Bellie, “It’s just a fun show.”
Forest Park residents who want to support innovative theater and want to participate in a bit of theatrical history can enjoy the show as it is running until June 25. More information is available by contacting the theater at 771-0700 or visiting their web site at www.circle-theatre.org.
You may not be able to meet Marvin Hamlisch, but even better yet you can congratulate Bellie on taking a risk in the world of theater, something that Hamlisch himself said is missing from a vast majority of current Broadway productions.