For the Boys | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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This one took me completely by surprise. An epic musical about two USO entertainers (Bette Midler and James Caan) who form a nonromantic show-biz team and perform together over three wars and half a century, it has the sort of scope, pizzazz, and feeling that we used to expect from Hollywood but haven't seen in a good while. Caan plays an entertainer very much like Bob Hope (politically he supports the status quo, and his signature tune, "I Remember You," recalls "Thanks for the Memories"); Midler is a more rambunctious sort with a gutsy liberal conscience who specializes in Mae West-like double entendres. Both of them are quite effective, as are George Segal as the acerbic wit who writes Caan's jokes and winds up getting blacklisted and Christopher Rydell, who plays Midler's son. This is one of the corniest movies imaginable, and I'm not even sure it properly qualifies as art, but it had me weeping buckets by the end, and it's as solid a piece of entertainment as I've seen this year. Mark Rydell (The Rose) directed from an uncommonly good script by Marshall Brickman, Neal Jimenez, and Lindy Laub. Not all of the dialogue is period-perfect, but the production design (Assheton Gorton), the makeup, and the score (the last two by many hands) deserve special thanks. With Patrick O'Neal, Arye Gross, Norman Fell, Rosemary Murphy, Bud Yorkin, Jack Sheldon, and Shannon Wilcox. (Starts Wednesday, November 27, Webster Place, Norridge)

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