The first surprise is the No Exit Caf√©. Designed to be reminiscent of a late 1940s/early 1950s neighborhood cabaret by Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre, it's a little, somewhat out of the way place in growing-more-interesting-by-the-day neighborhood. The Lifeline Theater is down the street and the phoenix-like Mayne Stage is around the corner. It's small, unassuming and ready to to surprise each audience with a fresh look at each of the 37 Arlen songs.
As Artistic Director Fred Anzevino, describes it:
‚ÄúThe new staging will be cozy and intimate, using all corners at the No Exit. The biggest change is bringing the audience on stage and creating an arrangement where the entire audience is part of the performance, so they can sing and dance along in the spirit of the old piano bar scenes.‚ÄĚ
Dancing? Yep. Even though this is billed as a revue, the movement is liquid, innovative, energetic and just right for the lyrics. The choreographer David Heimann explains:
‚ÄúI tried to capture the spirit of the great dance numbers of Judy Garland and Groucho Marx and pay homage to them.‚ÄĚ
Here's how Musical Director and accompanist Steve Carson puts it:
"I love this music. And, I fell in love with Harold Arlen's music as soon as I learned about him. The cabaret style of singing is, or should be, more improvisational, so the interpretation of the songs by the singers can be new every night based on what they are feeling in that moment. Because I‚Äôm always listening to them, I can compliment what they are trying to get across by adjusting my playing, changing my style and looking for new musical ideas to support them."
More than once during our evening of musical magic--in which, not incidentally, I understood every word!--we were surprised by subtle but telling new slants on a lyric and one big, risky co-mingling of two very different songs. You need to be there...
Arlen‚Äôs songs were made famous by legends in the industry, such as Judy Garland with ‚ÄúOver the Rainbow‚ÄĚ and Ethel Waters and Lena Horne with ‚ÄúStormy Weather.‚ÄĚ He also wrote with nearly every famous lyricist from Ted Koehler, Johnny Mercer and Ira Gershwin to even Truman Capote late in his career.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs happy music, but also emotional or soulful. The older generations can come and reminisce, while the younger generations can be introduced to Harold Arlen‚Äôs body of work,‚ÄĚ Anzevino said.
The singers, three women and three men, are: Sarah Hayes, Stephanie Herman, Bethany Thomas, Eric Lindahl, Eric Martin and Kristofer Simmons each of whom is charming, complicated, versatile and accomplished.
Director Anzevino knows pacing. "Blues in the Night" by the ensemble begins the show with a wallop. But nothing could have prepared us for the incredible arrangement of "Over the Rainbow" at the end. It's like hearing it for the first time.
Performances are 8 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays and 7 p.m., Sundays, June 20-August 8 at the No Exit Caf√©, 6970 N. Glenwood Ave. in Chicago‚Äôs Rogers Park neighborhood. Dinner is served one hour prior to curtain with cast members as servers. Doors open at 6:45 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays and 5:45 p.m., Sundays.
Tickets are available online at www.theoubique.org or www.theo-u.org and through the ticket order line at 800-595-4849.
Theo Ubique‚Äôs information line is 773-347-1109, where updated theatre and show information are available. The emergency phone number to the box office, available at 5 p.m. on performance nights, is 312-898-0672.
Tickets are $25. A show/dinner package is optional for $45 (dinner reservations recommended). Patrons are encouraged to use the free parking at the corner of Morse and Ravenswood with free transport on the Lifeline shuttle van to and from the lot, because of construction on Glenwood and Morse. The No Exit Caf√© is a half block north, west of the tracks on Glenwood from the Red Line‚Äôs Morse stop.
Special discounts are offered through Theo Ubique e-news, available by signing up through the web site.
Founded in 1997 by Fred Anzevino, Artistic Director, Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre is a Rogers Park-based cabaret-theatre company. It initially began performing at the Heartland Studio, producing an array of straight drama, comedy and musicals, and started the cabaret theatre trend in the Chicago area in 2004 when it began producing musicals and revues at Michael James‚Äô No Exit Caf√©‚ÄĒits home since then. During its 12-year history, Theo Ubique has produced more than 30 productions and received 25 Jeff Awards Non-Equity (including 7 this year for Chess) and 3 After Dark Awards. The name Theo Ubique (pronounced thee-oh oo-bah-kway) is a combination of Greek and Latin words reflecting the company‚Äôs mission to engage actors and audiences in an intimate and honest conversation with great theatrical works. Visit the web site at www.theoubique.org or www.theo-u.org.