Chicago Theater Review: LET ME ENTERTAIN YOU: JULE STYNE’S GREATEST HITS (Light Opera Works)

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by Lawrence Bommer on October 9, 2016

in Theater-Chicago


Whether the words flowed from the terrific team of Betty Comden and Adolph Green, the prolific and dynamic Sammy Cahn, or a very young Stephen Sondheim, Jule Styne was a composer for all lyricists. As supple in his melodies as his writers were in their verse and lifting as much as rising to any occasion, Styne could range from holiday favorites like “The Christmas Waltz” and “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” to the casual regrets of “Saturday Night (Is the Loneliest Night of the Week).” A terrific tribute from Light Opera Works performed through next weekend in Evanston’s Nichols Concert Hall, Let Me Entertain You: Jule Styne’s Greatest Hits is a labor of love where every song is coming up roses.

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But it’s a bit of a misnomer. Yes, there are standards to share—from his hits Gypsy, Peter Pan, Bells Are Ringing, and Funny Girl. But this splendid showcase for six indisputable Chicago talents is also an opportunity to discover lesser known Styne offerings from long forgotten shows like Hallelujah, Baby!, Do Re Mi, It Happened in Brooklyn, Tars and Spars, I’ll Get By, Youth on Parade and Ruggles of Red Gap.

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Balancing favorites with rarities and the voices themselves, director Rudy Hogenmiller delivers 100 minutes of made memories and future recollections. The non-trick is just to let the tunes create the moods Styne sets even before the lyrics reinforce them. Kelly Britt brings youthful ambition to Fanny Brice’s defiant “Don’t Rain on My Parade” and the torch song “Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry,” while veteran Larry Adams underlines the serendipity packed into “Just in Time” and the virtual Styne credo embedded in “As Long as There’s Music.” Worthy of Merman, Mary Robin Roth, a contagious delight whose every offering threatens to become a sing-along, has enormous fun with the lethal lyrics and pell-mell pace of “If You Hadn’t But You Did,” a rare patter s0ng from the Styne showroom.

8-justin-adairJustin Adair rekindles the excitement of “I Met a Girl” and the equal rapture of the lesser known “A Ride on a Rainbow.” Operatic Emily Barnash couldn’t feel more fervently faithful than “The Music That Makes Me Dance” or reflectively grateful as in “It’s Been A Long, Long Time.” A baritone belter, William Roberts proclaims “I Know About Love” with a bravado he also brings to “I Don’t Want to Walk Without You” (played as a stalking solo to mixed laughs).

Delightful duets include the salute “Ev’ry Street’s a Boulevard (in Old New York),” with Roberts and Adair as bon vivants on the town, and Britt and Adair in the appropriately incendiary “Fireworks.” The three women haunt “Who Are You Now?” from Funny Girl, while the men milk memories in “Three Coins in the Fountain” and the nostalgic “The Things We Did Last Summer.”

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Superbly shaped by music director Linda Madonia, the devotion of six passionate performers and their three-person combo cascades as they join forces in such lush offerings as “The Party’s Over,” “Time After Time,” “Neverland,” “Make Someone Happy,” and the inevitable encore “People (Who Need People).” As another song simply puts it, “It’s Magic.” No, it’s just music from the master.

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photos by Brett Beiner Photography

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5-mary-robin-rothJule Styne’s Greatest Hits
Light Opera Works
Nichols Concert Hall
1490 Chicago Ave in Evanston
ends on October 16, 2016
for tickets, call 847.920.5360
or visit Light Opera Works

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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