Review: “A Cole Porter Songbook”

SOMEWHAT RECOMMENDED

Where: Theo Ubique, No Exit Café, 6970 N. Glenwood Ave.
When: through September 1st
Tickets: $29-$59 (some prices include dinner)
Phone: 800-595-4849

By ANNE SPISELMAN
Theater Critic

Theo Ubique has carved out a niche with cabaret-style revues exploring the repertoire of individual songwriters for the theater ranging from Harold Arlen to Kurt Weill, and its tenth outing is “A Cole Porter Songbook.”  Directed by Fred Anzevino with new arrangements by musical director Aaron Benham, who also plays the piano, the evening brings together about 30 songs by the prolific composer of sophisticated music and incredibly witty lyrics, not to mention the entire scores for several stage and screen musicals. 

Porter’s Broadway heyday spanned the 1920s through the 1950s, but the selections and style here lean to the thirties and later, and Bill Morey’s costumes oddly combine big-skirted fifties dresses for the women with forties-ish suits for the men. Several of Benham’s arrangements blatantly go for a cool-jazz feel of the fifties, too, and some of these work better than others. He’s fond of thematic mash-ups, so “Let’s Do It” is paired with “Let’s Not Talk About Love,” “Experiment” is matched with “Let’s Misbehave,” “Easy to Love” mates with “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To” and “In the Still of the Night” meets “All Through the Night.” There’s also a French medley featuring half a dozen songs, among them “C’est Manifique” and “I Love Paris.” The second act spotlights a few serious numbers, but in general lightness and humor prevail.

Of the four performers, William Lucas has the most beautiful voice and best vocal control, but his solo songs aren’t the ones that show it off to full advantage. Christopher Logan’s forte is comedy. The two women, Sierra Naomi and Jill Sesso, have pipes that could give Ethel Merman (who originally sang “You’re the Top” and the other songs from “Anything Goes”) a run for the money; however, they tend to go overboard with the brassiness, especially given the intimate size of the theater.
Beham is joined by Alan Trachtenberg on bass and Anthony Scandora on percussion off one corner of Adam L. Veness’ platform set. David Heimann’s choreography puts the actors through fairly rigorous paces, and they don’t slack off for a minute. 

Occasionally, I had the feeling that “A Cole Porter Songbook” was trying too hard to be engaging rather than trusting the material, but that impression passed pretty quickly.