Chicago Theater Review: STARTING HERE, STARTING NOW (Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre)

Post image for Chicago Theater Review: STARTING HERE, STARTING NOW (Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre)

by Dan Zeff on October 1, 2011

in Theater-Chicago

REVUE REVIEW

Richard Maltby, Jr., and David Shire are not household names among the teams of composers who have contributed to the American musical stage. Although their collaboration goes back to their college days at Yale, they only have two Broadway shows to their credit: Baby (1983), a favorite among regional theaters, and Big (1996), which ranks among the most expensive flops in American theater history. However, both men have scored big individually: Maltby conceived and directed Tony-winners Ain’t Misbehavin’ (1978) and Fosse (1999), while Shire has scored numerous films, such as Coppola’s The Conversation (1974), and won an Oscar for “It Goes Like It Goes” from Norma Rae (1979).

Starting Here Starting Now - Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre in Chicago – the music of Richard Maltby Jr. and David Shire – Chicago Theater Review by Dan Zeff

But the team, who created their first off-Broadway show in 1961, has accumulated a vast portfolio of songs that never made it to the stage, about two dozen of which have been cobbled together in a 1977 revue called Starting Here, Starting Now, receiving a brisk and entertaining revival at the Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre.

There is no dialogue in Starting Here, Starting Now and no real storyline.  But the accent definitely is on romance, more specifically the ups and downs of guy-gal relationships, with more downs than ups. The songs are presented by a micro-ensemble of two young women and one young man. Perhaps because the females have the advantage in numbers, we hear more of their experiences in love. For the most part, the ladies are not happy campers in seeking meaningful connections with the opposite sex. They are usually either seeking a new relationship or licking their wounds after a breakup.

Starting Here Starting Now - Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre in Chicago – the music of Richard Maltby Jr. and David Shire – Chicago Theater Review by Dan Zeff

Maltby and Shire cover a broad arc of emotions in the love wars, ranging from the joy of loving (and being loved) to despair, resentment, and confusion when things don¹t work out. Some of the songs are humorous, some are serious, and some are somewhere in-between. But they explore the same theme in all its variety: finding the right mate and hoping the relationship works.

Much of the audience’s pleasure in Starting Here, Starting Now resides in the unfamiliarity of the songs. For most spectators, every number will be a fresh listening experience. There are no hit tunes so recognizable that the listener knows neither the tunes nor their sentiments by heart.

Starting Here Starting Now - Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre in Chicago – the music of Richard Maltby Jr. and David Shire – Chicago Theater Review by Dan Zeff

The success of the show ultimately resides in Maltby’s lyrics. Shire’s music works well as the vehicle that carries his partner’s words, yet nobody will leave the theater humming the composer’s melodies. However, patrons will happily recall Maltby’s ingenious lyrics to “Crossword Puzzle,” in which a lovelorn young woman attempts a Sunday New York Times puzzle as she ruefully recollects that she drove her lover away because she got all of the words before him. It’s a funny song to everyone but the heartbroken singer (it should come as no surprise that Maltby also crafts fiendishly difficult crossword puzzles). At the other end of the emotional spectrum, “I Don’t Remember Christmas” portrays a young man bitterly and unsuccessfully trying to convince himself that he’s wiped his mental slate clean of his departed girlfriend.

The revue is just right for the tiny Theo Ubique playing area. The theater has been reconfigured a bit from recent productions to allow for a raised stage dominated by a large double bed. The three performers use the aisles as well as the stage while a trio accompanies them from a snug corner just off the playing area. The production is the ultimate in intimacy, with the singers frequently just inches from the audience.

Starting Here Starting Now - Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre in Chicago – the music of Richard Maltby Jr. and David Shire – Chicago Theater Review by Dan Zeff

Stephanie Herman, a ripe blonde, and Hillary Patingre, a slender brunette, handle the music from the female side. They both sing extremely well, with Patingre’s strong operetta-quality voice having perhaps a slight edge. Teddy Boone doesn’t have the vocal chops of his female colleagues, but he does nail “I Don’t Remember Christmas,” perhaps the dramatic highlight of the evening.

Director Fred Anzevino knows how to make a virtue of necessity in moving his ensemble around the compressed Theo Ubique performing area. He is assisted by Starting Here Starting Now - Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre in Chicago – the music of Richard Maltby Jr. and David Shire – Chicago Theater Review by Dan ZeffMaggie Portman’s choreography, which is more choreographed body movement than full-fledged dancing, but given the restrictions of the small performing space, her work injects valuable and sometimes witty visual variety.

Musical director Eugene Dizon, presiding from his piano, contributes faultless accompaniment with his rhythm section of Cody Siragusa on bass and Lindsay Williams on percussion. The effective design team consists of Adam Veness (scenery), Michael Nardulli (lighting), and Raquel Adorno (costumes).

Maltby and Shire don¹t have the résumé of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe, and other celebrated musical theater teams, but on the evidence of Starting Here, Starting Now, they are in the right business. These tunesmiths allow the performers to shine as their songs are knowledgeably about the vagaries of the human heart.

photos by David Heimann

Starting Here, Starting Now
Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre
No Exit Café, 6970 N. Glenwood Ave.
Thurs at 7:30; Fri & Sat at 8; Sun at 7
ends on to November 6, 2011
for tickets, call 800.595.4849 or visit Theo Ubique

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

Comments on this entry are closed.