Queen of the Stardust Ballroom | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Queen of the Stardust Ballroom

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Queen of the Stardust Ballroom, Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire. Though playwright Jerome Kass based this musical on his mother, the shallow, manipulative script and a pedestrian score by Billy Goldenberg and Alan and Marilyn Bergman squander any true-to-life complexity. Set in the mid-70s, the show tells of an aging Bronx widow, Bea, who discovers new life and love at the Stardust Ballroom, a cross between Roseland, Studio 54, and a geriatric lonely hearts club. There Bea takes up with a married man and blossoms to the point where she's elected the dance hall's "queen," prompting her to belt out one last triumphant ballad before dying in her sleep, still wearing her crown.

In Kass's script--written with all the subtlety of a TV commercial for senior citizens' life insurance--Bea's sudden death doesn't seem poignant reality but a writer's evasion: by killing her off, Kass avoids the inevitable complications of her affair with Al. In the show's 1978 incarnation as the Broadway failure Ballroom, director Michael Bennet emphasized the ballroom subculture over the central romance; watching this revised version one can appreciate his desire to balance the maudlin story with some stylish entertainment. Though some viewers will enjoy the caricatures of late-blooming love and meddlesome relatives, the most enjoyable scenes here are the dance numbers (the disco line dance is an audience favorite). But despite some strong performances and Nancy Missimi's enjoyable 70s-kitsch costumes, Queen of the Stardust Ballroom doesn't rate a royal ranking. --Albert Williams

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