Chicago Theater Review: A COLE PORTER SONGBOOK (Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre)

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by Lawrence Bommer on June 8, 2013

in Theater-Chicago

KISS ME, COLE

Just the songs are blessing and bounty enough in A Cole Porter Songbook, Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre’s all-singing, much-dancing salute to Broadway’s suavest purveyor of perfection. Cleverly compiled in rich arrangements by music director Lawrence Bommer's Stage and Cinema Chicago review of Theo Ubique's A Cole Porter Songbook at Theo UbiqueAaron Benham, hoofed up to period perfection by choreographer David Heimann, and, above all, seamlessly staged with inventive inevitability by director Fred Anzevino, this treasure trove of lost and loved numbers is a spring fling sure to be a summer sensation. In the words of a Porter contemporary, who could ask for anything more?

In 40 melody-rich, lyric-witty years — between 1916’s See America First and 1956’s Silk Stockings — Porter, gay in every way, wrote a thousand songs, sophisticated as crème bruelee or simple as “True Love,” imbued with effortless tunes, supple verse, hilarious lists, and unashamed name-dropping. Theo Ubique’s charm-laden revue delivers them as medleys, as brilliantly juxtaposed debates on love felt from all sides, or as bravura showcases for Anzevino’s wonderful young quartet of ardent songsters, each dolled up in Bill Morey’s fabulous 50s fabrics.

Familiar favorites are occasionally slowed down or jazzed up with Benham’s artful reinventions, include “Too Darn Hot,” “Anything Goes,” “Let’s Misbehave,” “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” “So in Love,” “Night and Day,” “It’s De-Lovely,” and a “Begin the Lawrence Bommer's Stage and Cinema Chicago review of Theo Ubique's A Cole Porter Songbook at Theo UbiqueBeguine” strictly for Benham’s hot three-member orchestra.

There are worthy discoveries: With back flips and cartwheels, Christopher Logan croons “They Couldn’t Compare To You,” a complex mix of sultry melody and comic refrain, with contagious conviction. Pianist Benham has a sly turn with the curious catalogue ditty “Come to the Supermarket in Old Peking”; written for the great Cyril Ritchard and performed in Aladdin, a forgotten 1958 T.V. musical, it describes a store you just know is no longer there, if it ever was, to peddle dreams a la Porter.

Lawrence Bommer's Stage and Cinema Chicago review of Theo Ubique's A Cole Porter Songbook at Theo UbiqueThe groupings are great: “Take Me Back to Paris,” a six-song tribute to the city of lights and love, culminates in William Lucas’ heartbreaking version of “I Love Paris.” Benham ingeniously mixes “Let’s Do It” with the contradictory “Let’s Not Talk About Love” as Jill Sesso and the guys work out the ebb and flow of sex and love. Benham finds equally perfect couplings with tenor Lucas’ lilting mix of “Easy to Love” and “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To.” The company’s glorious harmonies connect nocturnal ballads “In the Still of the Night” with “All Through the Night.” Logan runs his own glorious gauntlet with the multiple messages contained in “It’s Bad for Me,” “You Do Something To Me,” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.”

Lawrence Bommer's Stage and Cinema Chicago review of Theo Ubique's A Cole Porter Songbook at Theo UbiqueFinally, cherish the stand-alone numbers that salute singers as much as songs, evidenced in the ebullient “Ridin’ High,” Sierra Naomi’s simple take on the country-western classic “Don’t Fence Me In,” and Sesso’s pseudo-scientific take on “Experiment” (the last novelty number was written for Gertrude Lawrence). Likewise the salacious “The Physician,” here painted lavender as Lucas updates all the witticisms in this doctor-patient two-way. Equal hilarity comes as the boys morph from sudden Bard-buffs to gangsters to Ritzy showmen in the toxically witty “Brush Up Your Shakespeare,” which must contain 10 or more choruses.

Of course, given the many marvelous musical treats this Indiana phenom lavished on grateful audiences (despite the non-stop suffering he endured from 1938 to his death in 1963 after horrific complications from falling from his horse), nobody can expect to savor all their preferred Porter. Anyway, pain aside, at the intimate No Exit Café we only get the pleasure. That’s as “de-lovely” as it comes.

photos by David Heimann

A Cole Porter Songbook
Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre
No Exit Café, 6970 N Glenwood Avenue
scheduled to end on July 21, 2013 EXTENDED to September 15, 2013
for tickets, call 800-595-4849 or visit http://www.theo-u.com

for info on this and other Chicago Theater, visit http://www.TheatreinChicago.com

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