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DINER: The Musical
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Review Roundup: Sheryl Crow's DINER Opens at Signature Theatre

Virginia's Signature Theatre presents the world premiere of Diner, the musical adaptation of the landmark film with a book by the movie's Academy Award-winning screenwriter and director Barry Levinson (Rain Man, Bugsy, The Natural) and an original score by nine-time Grammy Award winnerSheryl Crow. The production began performances at Signature Theatre's MAX Theatre December 9 and will play through January 25.

Directed and choreographed by three-time Tony Award Winner Kathleen Marshall, the ensemble piece features Whitney Bashor, Bryan Fenkart, Aaron Finley, Josh Grisetti, Erika Henningsen, Derek Klena, Adam Kantor, Tess Soltau, Matthew James Thomas, and John Schiappa.

The creative team includes Music Direction by Lon Hoyt; Orchestrations by Grammy Award® nominee Mitchell Froom; Scenic Design by Tony Award® winner Derek McLane; Scenery adapted by James Kronzer; Costume Design by Tony Award® nominee Paul Tazewell; Lighting Design by Tony Award® winner Peter Kaczorowski; Sound Design by Lane Elms; Production Stage Manager Kerry Epstein; Assistant Stage Manager Allie Roy; and New York Casting by Justin Huff, CSA.

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Paul Harris, Variety: "Diner," Barry Levinson's 1982 film about six Baltimore chums savoring their last gasps of 1950s adolescence, has been turned by scripter Levinson and songwriter/lyricist Sheryl Crow into a musical that's just as touching and entertaining as the movie. As in the film, "Diner" the musical remains a nostalgic look at a colorful era compressed into a few eventful days at the close of 1959. Crow has written a delightful assortment of doo-wop, R&B and early rock-n-roll melodies that might have comprised a '50s hit parade themselves if the songwriter had come along sooner. They are filled with delicious harmonies and enhanced by insightful lyrics that aggressively advance the plot. All are sung beautifully by the accomplished ensemble. Like the film, the musical version of "Diner" studiously balances the humorous with the melancholy within a strict parameter that depicts the classic battle-of-the-sexes struggle as one of maturity-versus-adolescence. It's underscored further by director Marshall's careful, unhurried pacing that affords equal treatment to high and low elements. Unquestionably, "Diner" represents an exciting new venture for Crow and Levinson. Catering to audiences who like to wax nostalgic with shows like "Million Dollar Quartet," this "Diner" offers real possibilities as a bona fide commercial contender.

Peter Marks, Washington Post: It may be ripped from the big screen, as so many musicals are nowadays. But given the seriousness of the effort here, "Diner" the musical is not a rip-off. Count the integrity of Crow's score, a diversified and at the same time cohesive exhibition of a pastiche, in this case, of the musical sounds of the late '50s. As played by a six-member band conducted by Lon Hoyt, you hear a variety of beats, the influence of doo-wop and early rock-and-roll, sly tributes to Elvis and Little Richard. It doesn't indulge in camp, a la "Grease" or "Hairspray"; it's like an alternative universe of Crow-built chart-toppers. The tone ranges from glee (the rafter-raising "Gotta Love Women") to outrage (the gripping "Tear Down This House"). The cast is uniformly competent. The design elements, most notably Derek McLane and James Kronzer's rendering of the diner, with its art deco metalwork and red-and-white vinyl booths, are rewardingly evocative of the period.

Tim Smith, Baltimore Sun: Barry Levinson and Sheryl Crow make a satisfying musical meal out of 1982 film classic "Diner." It's a modest, unassuming, slyly affecting work with a book by Levinson, music and lyrics by Sheryl Crow. This show stands out in several ways. For one thing, it never tries too hard, never pushes. Levinson just tells his story and keeps everything honest, with much of the dialogue directly from the screenplay. And the score, which deftly evokes the late '50s and hints at the '60s, springs naturally from the situations. That many of the songs, intentionally or not, seem to last about the length of a 45 record, adds to the authentic flavor of the show. But Crow has not just settled for a nostalgia fest. Her melodic lines and chord progressions have a freshness and sophistication that stands out all the more given the generic stuff found in many a musical nowadays, and her lyrics largely avoid the commonplace. Director and choreographer Kathleen Marshall draws from her tightly meshed cast performances that feel effortless. The dancing, too, fits right in, thanks to Marshall's way of making the steps look spontaneous and inevitable. But, on the whole, the transformation from screen to stage has been handled in a telling fashion, preserving the essence of the original and adding effective spice. It adds up to a substantial new musical that has been given a thoroughly satisfying production. It's cool to hang out in this "Diner."

David Siegel, DC Metro Theater Arts: 4 out of 5 stars - For those wanting a musical to recall the heavenly days of doo-wop harmony groups choreographed girl groups, and the wonder years of early rock-and-roll, head off to Signature Theatre for the highly anticipated new musical, Diner. Crow's score succeeds in being a wonderful mimicry of the later 1950's teen/young adult tastes. The song titles and lyrics by Crow are worthy of a sly grin, off-center smile and knowing bright eyes. The up-tempo songs bring foot-tapping perkiness to the show. The ballads sell us on the pain of trying to find love. The audience may even think they hear a few bars from a familiar song from the actual period. This is not the case. Crow's nearly 20 song score is all new. The six long time buddies in the cast include Bryan Fenkart, Aaron C. Finley, Josh Grisetti, Adam Kantor, Derek Klena, and Matthew James Thomas. Each gives their character likability. For those of a certain generation or for those who know the original Diner movie, there is much delight. It is a visit with old friends, learning what may have happened since last seen.

Photo by Carol Rosegg

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