ACT II: A second look at area stages — ‘A Cole Porter Songbook’
By Hedy Weiss Theater Criticfirstname.lastname@example.org June 13, 2013 2:04PM
Jill Sesso (left) and Sierra Naomi dance a can-can as Christopher Logan and William Lucas look on. | David Heimann photo
‘A Cole Porter Songbook’
When: Through July 21
Where: Theo Ubique Cabaret Theater, 6970 N. Glenwood
Tickets: $29-$59 (includes dinner packages at some price levels)
Info: (800) 595-4849; theo-u.com Run time:
Two hours, with one intermission
Updated: June 16, 2013 2:43AM
Listen to the songs of Cole Porter — that Indiana-born composer and lyricist who from the 1920s through the 1950s penned some of the greatest Broadway and Hollywood scores — and you will easily be able to identify his preoccupations.
In no particular order they include: sex (in various combinations), love and language, with plenty of world travel on the side. Think of him as America’s counterpart to Noel Coward and you wouldn’t be entirely off the mark. Take a seat at Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre’s marvelous new revue, “A Cole Porter Songbook,” and you will be reminded of his playful genius.
The show (which arrives on the heels of the sparkling national tour of Porter’s “Anything Goes”) features zesty direction by Fred Anzevino, ingenious choreography by David Heimann, superb musical direction by the engaging pianist-arranger Aaron Benham and a savvy, big-voiced cast of four. And it takes audiences on a two-hour jaunt through two dozen of Porter’s most familiar tunes from both stage and screen, with some unknown gems tossed in for good measure.
Along the way there are a number of knockout production numbers on Theo Ubique’s intimate stage (cleverly reoriented to thrust-style by designer Adam L. Veness) and many reminders of what a brainy (and compulsive) wordsmith Porter was, as well as a composer who easily drew on the full gamut of styles, from jazz and blues, to tango, rhumba, operetta and even country western “cowboy.”
The many clarion songs Porter wrote for Broadway powerhouse Ethel Merman (star of the original “Anything Goes”) are here belted out primarily by Jill Sesso, who has great pipes and also can dance up a storm. Christopher Logan and William Lucas team as the multifacted song-and-dance men, who bring down the house with their stylish rendition of “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” and join with Sesso for “Experiment” and “Let’s Misbehave.” And the lustrous Sierra Naomi brings an air of romance and sophistication to “Don’t Fence Me In” and many other ensemble pieces. She also pairs with Sesso for a rousing can-can, the highlight of a delightful six-song medley for the full cast inspired by Paris and “l’amour.”
Porter’s most familiar songs — “Too Darn Hot,” “You’re the Top,” “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “Blow, Gabriel, Blow!” “In the Still of the Night,” “Night and Day,” “It’s De-Lovely” (with Sesso and Lucas tapping up a storm) and a gorgeous chorale-like version of “So in Love” — are all included, with the band (Benham, plus Alan Trachtenberg on bass and Anthony Scandora on drums) playing “Begin the Beguine” for a second act opener.
The novelties? “The Physician,” in which a doctor takes interest in every hilariously catalogued aspect of anatomy, but not in the patient himself, and “Come to the Supermarket in Old Peking,” which accurately captures the exotic food items still to be found in Beijing’s amazing “night market.”
“A Cole Porter Songbook” marks the 10th revue produced by Theo Ubique. Meanwhile, its Jeff Award-winning show “Smokey Joe’s Cafe: The Songs of Leiber and Stoller” is now running at the Royal George Theatre Cabaret. And next season (along with “Master Class,” Terrence McNally’s play-with-music, and Stephen Sondheim’s musical “Passion”), there will be a tribute to the Andrews Sisters. So you might very well conclude that the company has cornered Chicago’s revue market.
Note: An optional dinner (served by the actors) may be ordered in advance at Theo Ubique. The “Cole Porter menu” includes a smoked salmon mousse, beef hanger steak and banana butterscotch custard. There also is a vegetarian option.