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Theater

Review: Drury Lane's world premiere 'Hazel' is a musical joyride

Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace has launched its 2016-17 season with the world premiere musical comedy, “Hazel: A Musical Maid in America,” which runs through May 29.

The title character is based on the Saturday Evening Post cartoon by Ted Key, which first appeared in 1943, and the 1960s TV comedy series starring Shirley Booth. Director/choreographer Joshua Bergasse won the 2012 Emmy Award for Outstanding Choreography for his work on NBC’s “Smash.”

As the show begins, Hazel (Klea Blackhurst) enters through the auditorium, directly addresses the audience and establishes a friendly, confidential relationship. This loquacious leading lady is about to interview for a new position and extols the advantages of reliable domestic help in “Ya Gonna Need Help.” Blackhurst quickly wins the audience over with her extreme likability, big brassy vocals and sheer star power.

The year is 1965, and the Baxters, a modern couple, are hiring a live-in maid because Dorothy (Summer Naomi Smart) has snagged her dream job as an interior designer and no longer will be a stay-at-home mom for 8-year-old Harold. We meet gadget-obsessed Harold (Casey Lyons) and his three geeky friends (Tyler Martin, Rowan Moxley and Ava Morse) as they sight what appears to be a UFO. This precocious kiddie quartet is a sweet, comic highlight throughout the show.

Meanwhile, Mr. Baxter (Ken Clark) is angling for a promotion at his law firm by signing a new client, wacky entrepreneur Bonkers Johnson (Ed Kross). After Hazel aces the job interview, she and Mr. B make a little wager in the thrillingly sung “Better Luck, Next Time.” And then complications ensue in the funny book by Lissa Levin, whose TV credits include “Cheers,” “Mad About You” and “Family Ties.”

“Hazel” is a comedic and musical joyride. The musical score by Ron Abel is sometimes jazz inflected and, at other times, evocative of ’60s pop. It is sung superbly by Blackhurst, Smart, Clark, Murphy and the entire company. An unexpected, thrilling surprise is the sweet ballad “Space” performed by sixth-grader Lyons, who exhibits talent and professionalism far beyond his years.

In addition to scenes in the Baxter home, viewers are transported to a soundstage, an Air Force agency office, an interior design office and an A&P grocery. Mr. Bergasse cleverly has staged a variety of musical numbers, including a microwave commercial, a supermarket mambo and a solo with fishbowl. At one point, Hazel and Bonkers morph into the quintessential vaudeville team. The supporting ensemble is excellent, most notably Meghan Murphy and lightfooted Terrance Martin.

Set designer Kevin Depinet and costume designer Sully Ratke amusingly evoke the mid-60s with period wallpaper, avocado appliances, modern artwork, contemporary hairstyles and mod fashions. Not only is the production artfully lit by Lee Fiskness, but lighting serves as an integral part of the set design. The acoustics and sound design by Ray Nardelli are superb.

The conflict that sets this show in motion is the longstanding debate about whether a woman can navigate both a career and motherhood/marriage. Not only does Dorothy confront that challenge, but the title character also is thrown off course by a magical kiss. If “Hazel” is headed for Broadway, it requires another rewrite to focus its message and find a more organic resolution. This musical comedy is hugely entertaining and definitely deserves a longer life.

• Richard Pahl has been a working actor and director for 35 years. Most recently, he appeared in “Backwards Broadway,” performed “The London Mosquitoes” at Side Street Studio in Elgin and directed “Ordinary Days” at Steel Beam Theatre in St. Charles.

“HAZEL: A MUSICAL MAID IN AMERICA”

WHEN: Through May 29

WHERE: Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Dury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace

COST & INFO: The world premiere musical comedy, “Hazel,” based on the character created by Ted Key and the hit television series, kicks off the 2016-2017 season. Tickets start at $45. Tickets and information: www.drurylanetheatre.com or 630-530-0111.

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