Chicago Theater Review: A MARVIN HAMLISCH SONGBOOK (Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre)

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by Lawrence Bommer on June 6, 2015

in Theater-Chicago

SIX SINGULAR SENSATIONS

No text or context, no name-dropping or dates delivered, no editorials about the art–the songs just sing for themselves. The revue’s title–A Marvin Hamlisch Songbook–says all and enough. Conceived by director Courtney Crouse and musical arranger Aaron Benham, Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre’s latest treasure triumph at No Exit Café is a beautifully wrought tribute to the composer who died two years ago at 68. Faithful in notes, feeling, tempi and subtext, two dozen prized and lesser known songs are seamlessly interwoven and perfectly grafted to six skillfully showcased talents. Eight musicals, 32 films, and only one of 12 to receive an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar (three in one night!) and Tony awards–Hamlisch’s lifetime achievement is distilled to two hours of earthly harmony and heavenly delights. They’re playing his songs.

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Ranging from the 21-year-old composer’s first hit song for Lesley Gore (the groovy, 60s-drenched “Sunshine, Lollypops and Rainbows”) to his musical monument A Chorus Line to late-blooming worthies like The Goodbye Girl and Sweet Smell of Success to his movie mastery (The Sting and The Way We Were), the evening capitalizes on Hamlisch’s unflagging ability to put the right notes to the right words at the right time. We’re regaled with the tender tunes and bittersweet ballads that make Hamlisch the troubadour of regret (“I Cannot Hear the City,” poignantly rendered by handsome Caleb Baze, Patrick Byrnes’ introspective “If You Really Knew Me” or Garrett Lutz’ winsome “How Can I Win?”) as much as a harbinger of hope (Stephanie Hansen’s globe-trotting “Travelin’ Life,” written for Liza, the table-setting “Rita’s Tune,” crooned with wit by Sarah Larson, and, of course, “At the Ballet,” sung by the women as sweetly as is legal).

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Benham, who delightfully melds Scott Joplin with Hamlisch stride piano in the entr’acte, has fun working the burnt torch-song “A Beat Behind” fr0m The Goodbye Girl into the famous audition rehearsals of A Chorus Line, each splendidly setting the other off. Likewise the female trio’s affecting “The Way We Were” perfectly complements the male trio’s equally harmonious “What I Did for Love”–Hamlisch’s two biggest hits. The company bring rampaging ebullience to the title number from “Smile,” sass to “Do You Wanna Be in My Movie” and downhome devotion to the rhapsodic “Nobody Does It Better” and the encore “Through the Eyes of Love” from the film Ice Castles.

Hamlisch 3 Kelly

Then there are the curiosities that tout the Hamlisch touch, like the conditional homage to “Disneyland” from Smile and Caleb’s forlorn “If You Remember Me” from the film The Champ. Patrick Byrnes and Sarah Larson have fun with the giddily goofy “An Improvised Love Song” where everything is forced to rhyme with “Paula.” Another rarity: Sarah Larson and Sarah Wasserman join Garrett in the wry “That’s How I Say Goodbye,” heard in the show’s Chicago tryout but cut from The Goodbye Girl by the time it reached Broadway. Inevitably, the “songbook” salutes Hamlisch’s valued and supple lyricists–Tim Rice, Craig Carnelia, Howard Ashman, Carole Bayer Sager, Alan and Marilyn Bergman, Ed Kleban, David Zippel, and Howard Liebling. They single-handedly prevent us from humming the music home.

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There’s a hit here to fit every mood and a fresh and ready young ensemble who never let technique stifle inspiration. This solid sextet should be paid by the note: Certainly that’s what they give their crowd–solid gold, measure for measure.

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photos by Jolly Cody

Hamlisch 10 LarsonA Marvin Hamlisch Songbook
Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre
No Exit Café, 6970 N. Glenwood Ave.
Thurs at 7:30; Fri & Sat at 8; Sun at 7
ends on July 12, 2015
for tickets, call 800.595.4849
or visit www.theo-u.org

for more info on Chicago Theater,
visit www.TheatreinChicago.com

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