Theater Review: LERNER AND LOEWE’S GREATEST HITS (Music Theater Works)

by Lawrence Bommer on October 5, 2019

in Theater-Chicago

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Seldom has a dream team had a shorter span: It was all over in only 13 years. But between 1947 and 1960 Alan J. Lerner and Frederick Loewe ran a glorious gamut. It happened both on Broadway and in Hollywood transfers of five very different successes.

The powerful partnership began 72 years ago with the unashamedly romantic postwar gem Brigadoon, its tale of a mystical Scottish village enhanced by Lerner’s tart lyrics and Loewe’s spindrift melodies (“The Heather on the Hill,” “Almost Like Being in Love”).

Less successful (especially in its film version), 1951’s Paint Your Wagon was a dramatically different tonal and stylistic departure. In this Tex-Mex treasure trove, Loewe’s Copland-like tunes were now as downhome and straightforward as “I Talk to the Trees” and “They Call The Wind Maria.”

In 1956, My Fair Lady, their greatest hit, launched several careers and delighted sell-out crowds. Lerner’s flawless adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s class-conscious Pygmalion turned unexpectedly romantic, complete with a happy ending.

Written as a 1958 film, Gigi was a Valentine to turn-of-the-century Paris (“The Night They Invented Champagne”). It featured yet another transformation tale: Colette’s not-quite-feminist plot depicted a groomed courtesan turning into a radiant and respectable wife.

Finally, stamping an era, 1960’s Camelot playfully dramatized T.H. White’s reprise of the Arthurian legends and a once-and-future king, providing the too-brief Kennedy administration its enduring branding.

Generous but never to a fault, Music Theater Works’ Lerner and Loewe’s Greatest Hits is as supple a showcase as these five disparate offerings. Performed at Evanston’s Nichols Concert Hall, it’s perfectly shaped by Rudy Hogenmiller and music director Linda Madonia to trigger memories and surprise aficionados.

Intent on making anything old new again (and both replacing and rechanneling the likes of Julie Andrews, Robert Goulet, Lee Marvin, Gene Kelly, Cyd Charisse, Leslie Caron, Maurice Chevalier, Hermione Gingold, Louis Jourdan, Richard Burton, and Rex Harrison), M.T.C. has assembled a sterling quartet. Four superb singer-dancers are performers with impeccable timing and awesome v0cal and dramatic range. Their unimprovable fusion of comedic and serious stylings do fervent justice to the L&L repertory, a franchise well worth savoring again.

Alicia Berneche, Martin L. Woods, Billy Dawson, and Samantha Behen bring out the best in themselves and 36 songs. Behen recreates the inexhaustible joy of Eliza Doolittle’s “I Could Have Danced All Night” and demure but bloodthirsty Guinevere’s “The Simple Joys of Maidenhood.” A presence and a power, Woods brings bedrock sincerity to Henry Higgin’s late-blooming “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face,” while Dawson’s soaring tenor drives home Freddie’s ardor in “The Street Where You Live” and Lancelot’s “If Ever I Should Leave You.” Berneche brings storytelling skills to the delightfully subversive “What Do The Simple Folk Do?”

Thanks to an evening as efficient as enthralling, the unthinkable happens: The whole of Lerner and Loewe’s output actually seems greater than the sum of its shows. Seen as one great gift, these five works take on the world and wear it well.

photos by Brett Beiner

Lerner and Loewe’s Greatest Hits
Music Theater Works
Nichols Concert Hall
1490 Chicago Ave. in Evanston
ends on October 13, 2019
for tickets, call 847.920.5360
or visit Music Theater Works

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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