REVIEW: CHICAGO, IL — Theo Ubique’s ‘Songbook’ turns up the heat on Hamlisch’s melodies.
The show was performed from June 4th through July 12, 2015. Thank you Chicago! Thank you Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre!
GET THE MUSIC OF MARVIN HAMLISCH FOR YOUR NEXT PRODUCTION! (Music for Symphony & Solo performances, Musicals A Chorus Line, They’re Playing Our Song, Sweet Smell Of Success and more!
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Venue: NO EXIT CAFE, THEO UBIQUE, CHICAGO, IL
A Marvin Hamlisch Songbook
Directed by Courtney Crouse
Arrangements and Musical Direction by Aaron Benham
Choreography by Christopher Logan
A cabaret dedicated to the songs of one of America’s top popular composers including selections from “A Chorus Line,” “They’re Playing Our Song” and the hit song “The Way We Were.”
Review by Chris Jones, Theatre Critic, The Chicago Tribune:
“Marvin Hamlisch had many sides. Given the youth of the performers at Theo Ubique, you don’t get enough of one of his major musical themes, which involved love in middle age and the difficulty of commitment therein. (i.e. Sophie’s Choice. ) But his musical colors are well-represented, and as always, his arguably peerless clutch of sticky melodies are a great pleasure to hear. Especially on a warm night.” — Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune Theatre Critic
You don’t generally think of the music of Marvin Hamlisch — compositions by the great mensch of the American musical theater of the last half of the 20th century — as the kind of songs that could steam up the windows of the No Exit Cafe in Rogers Park.
But in “A Marvin Hamlisch Songbook,” the conceivers, Courtney Crouse and Aaron Benham, with the help of their sexy young Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre cast, warm up the joint with enough sensuality that you quickly forget that the Act 1 ended with “Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows.”
WATCH SONG: “Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows” Rendition by Lesley Gore (1946–2015)
If you’re the kind of person who already knew that Hamlisch wrote that 1963 song, first recorded by Lesley Gore, or if you like Hamlisch melodies so much that you’re willing to forgive a lyric like “You think by now I’d learned/ Play with fire you get burned/ But fire can be also warm/ That’s why I return,” then, well, this is your show.
In the superior second act, Crouse takes as his ubertext the song “Fallin’ ” from the most biographical of all the Hamlisch shows, “They’re Playing Our Song.” From there, he uses the standout performer in the show, the very fine Caleb Baze, to offer a sultry dose of “I Cannot Hear the City” from “Sweet Smell of Success” (one of the best Hamlisch songs, to my mind) and then moves as smoothly as Delilah did on your old Lite FM into “If You Really Knew Me” (what we all want from our lovers), “When You’re in My Arms” and, of course, “What I Did For Love.”
It’s all a very deft use of the colossal Hamlisch songbook. Benham and Crouse fuse “They’re Playing Our Song” very cleverly with “The Last Time I Felt Like This” at the start of the show, and with “Nobody Does It Better” toward the end. The encore, incidentally, is “Through the Eyes of Love.”
Yep, Hamlisch also co-wrote the theme to “Ice Castles,” but then, if you’re this deep into the review, you likely knew that already too.
“A Marvin Hamlisch Songbook” has just Benham on the piano, which means you miss some of the percussive glories of the power-ballads of the 1970s and 1980s. The cast is young and, thus, so are their interpretations. And I wouldn’t claim that the show, which is a straight revue without any narrative, unlocks any great secrets about the Hamlisch ouevre.
But the earthy actress Stephanie Hansen brings all kind of energy to the show and she’s complemented nicely by the sincerity of Garrett Lutz and Patrick Byrnes, with Sarah Larson fully genuine at all times and Sarah Wasserman shining on both “A Beat Behind” and an interesting arrangement of “At the Ballet.”
Hamlisch had many sides. Given the youth of all involved here, you don’t get enough of one of his major musical themes, which involved love in middle age and the difficulty of commitment therein. But his musical colors are well-represented, and as always, his arguably peerless clutch of sticky melodies are a great pleasure to hear. Especially on a warm night.
LISTEN: Music from Marvin’s Score for the film SOPHIE’S CHOICE:
Jones is a Tribune critic. [email protected] Twitter ChrisJonesTrib REVIEW: A Marvin Hamlisch Songbook by Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre at No Exit Cafe in Chicago
3 STARS When: From June 4th Through July 12, 2015 Where: No Exit Cafe, 6970 N. Glenwood Ave. Running time: 2 hours Tickets: $29-$34 at 800–595-4849 or theo‑u.org
Copyright © 2015, Chicago Tribune
(An Emmy Winner film by Filmmaker Dori Berinstein)