Me & Al, at the Theatre Building Chicago. Six of the men gunned down in the 1928 Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre were members of the Bugs Moran gang, but the body count also included an optometrist named Reinhart Schwimmer, perhaps a gangster groupie in the wrong place at the wrong time. In this new musical, Leo Schwartz, Donald Abramson, and Judy Freed expand on the story, endowing this hapless schmo with a dominating mother, a devoted sweetheart, and a yearning for the high life that would lead to his violent demise.
As the thrill-seeking Schwimmer, Matthew Foy projects a scrappy naivete. (At the funeral his fiancee declares, “He was a gangster–just not a very good one.”) Jill Van Brussell as the formidable Mrs. Schwimmer is given some of the show’s best songs (also, unfortunately, a Native American spirit guide–a device that should have been discarded several rewrites earlier). Overall the 17 ensemble members acquit themselves bravely in some 41 roles.
In development since 1997, Me & Al still has a classroom ambience. The engaging (if somewhat generic) score and undeniably talented cast go far in redeeming the skimpy low-budget production values, but more work is needed for this musical to achieve its full potential.