A Cole Porter Songbook

 

Music by Cole Portercoleportersongbookj

Musical Arrangements by Aaron Benham

Directed by Fred Anzevino

Starring Christopher Logan, William Lucas, Sierra Naomi & Jill Sesso

Produced by Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre

It might be springtime in Paris after all…

Broadway’s preeminent composer Richard Rodgers first met Cole Porter in 1926. Porter, living off his family’s sizable coal and timber fortune, had been renting out the Ca’ Rezzonico on Venice’s Grand Canal for a lavish $4000 a month when he invited Rodgers over for a dinner party. The guest list included Noel Coward who joyfully regaled the group with a few of his songs. Rodgers did the same. As did Porter.

Writing in his autobiography years later, Rodgers admitted to being more than slightly shocked at his host’s considerable abilities as a composer and lyricist. When Rodgers asked why Porter’s gifts had yet to grace New York’s ‘Great White Way,’ he was confounded to hear that Porter had by that time already written and/or contributed to four shows, none of which had yielded anything substantial. Thus Porter’s decision to take a leisurely sojourn to Europe, opting rather to write songs exclusively for his circle of acquaintances. As Rodgers intimated, Porter wrote music as a way to stave off an appreciable ennui. “I have spent my life escaping boredom,” Porter once said, “not because I am bored, but because I don’t want to be.”

Cole Porter008_ Jill Sesso_Sierra Naomi_Christopher Logan_William LucasIt’s thus with considerable relief to report that Theo Ubique’s newest revue featuring the work of America’s most urbane songwriter is, at the very least, never boring. Under the auspicious vision of director Fred Anzevino, A Cole Porter Songbook is the tenth of Ubique’s unique cabaret-style productions featuring the blockbuster songwriting talents of Broadway.

Music director and arranger Aaron Benham has thankfully returned to Ubique after last summer’s collaboration on the hit Time After Time: The Songs of Jules Styne, and in many ways, Benham’s prodigious talents are the foremost draw here. His distinct arrangements, while always faithful to Porter’s exuberantly light melodic touch, nonetheless still manage to surprise us on occasion with an apparently newfound sense of rejuvenated sincerity. His composite rendition, for example, of both ‘In the Still of the Night’ and ‘All Through the Night’ is a seductive piece of work, demonstrating not only Benham’s astute sensitivity to Porter’s music, but also a much needed awareness of the songwriter’s thematic sensibilities. And Benham’s culminating arrangements of ‘Night and Day,’ featuring a softly inspired a cappella turn piques the ear as though hearing it—disarmingly—for the first time.

Cole Porter007_Christopher Logan_ Sierra NaomiBenham on piano is joined by Alan Trachtenberg and Anthony Scandora on bass and percussions, and despite their being sparse in number, they make up for it in feeling, supporting an heartfelt ensemble of four through even the most riotous of Porter’s deliciously witty indulgences. The indisputable center piece of the first act, for example, is ‘Take Me Back to Paris,’ a medley tribute to Porter’s amorous fascination with the premier City of Lights. Ranging in tone from the coyly playful to the celebratory, this well-played love letter to Porter’s favorite city is charmingly enthralling. And with the cast decked out in Bill Morey’s period pieces of the 1940s and 50s—coupled with the tea-light lit interior of Ubique’s intimate space—‘Take Me Back to Paris’ manages to do just that. Thus being more than just a superb musical accomplishment, Anzevino’s production even succeeds in capturing something of the whimsical mood of those Parisian dalliances Porter himself loved so much.

Cast member Christopher Logan returns to Ubique after last summer’s Time After Time, and even if Logan is not necessarily the strongest of singers (in this cast, the bar is set staggeringly high), he nonetheless approaches his role with both the nimble alacrity of a young Danny Kaye and the twinkle-toe sure-footedness of a James Cagney. The beautiful Sierra Naomi makes her Ubique debut in this production, with a certain poised good humor and beautiful musical phrasing. And William Lucas, last seen in Ubique’s recent production of Aspects of Love, is pitch-perfect through and through, even managing to demonstrate some considerable comedic chops in a gay-themed rendition of ‘The Physician’ and that ultimate crowd-pleaser, ‘Brush Up Your Shakespeare.’ And Jill Sesso, also in debut at Ubique, is a pint-sized songstress with a big sound. Demonstrating a jaw-dropping range and a belt that could shake the rafters, her sense of brimming bon vivant at times feels custom-tailored to Porter’s music. Indeed, for those under the misassumption that Porter’s relevance has perhaps passed, I dare you only to hear Sesso’s brassy vocals get ahold of ‘Anything Goes’ and ‘Blow, Gabriel, Blow!’ before making up your minds.

Cole Porter012_William Lucas_Jill SessoThus featuring a solid selection of some of Porter’s best-loved songs (the complete list can be found below), this artful revue featuring top-notch arrangements and an impeccable cast should not be missed. So if you find yourself at some point this summer taken up by that greatest of evils—boredom—you thankfully know where to turn.

SONG LIST

  1. Too Darn Hot
  2. You’re the Top
  3. The Physician
  4. Let’s Do It/Let’s Not Talk About Love
  5. Come to the Supermarket in Old Peking
  6. Take Me Back to Paris (Medley)
    1. You Don’t Know Paree
    2. C’est Magnifique
    3. Ca, C’est L’amour
    4. Allez-Vous-En
    5. Give Him the Oo-La-La
    6. I Love Paris
  7. Don’t Fence Me In
  8. Experiment/Let’s Misbehave
  9. They Couldn’t Compare to You
  10. Anything Goes/Blow, Gabriel, Blow!
  11. Begin the Beguine
  12. Brush Up Your Shakespeare
  13. I Get a Kick Out of You
  14. East to Love/You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To
  15. It’s De-Lovely
  16. In the Still of the Night/All Through the Night
  17. It’s Bad for Me/You Do Something to Me/I’ve Got You Under My Skin
  18. So In Love
  19. Night and Day
  20. Ridin’ High

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Reviewed by Anthony J. Mangini

Reviewed Thursday, June 6th, 2013.

A Cole Porter Songbook runs until July 21st, 2013. Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre is located at 6970 N. Glenwood Ave. For tickets call 800-595-4849 or visit www.theo-u.com. Check out their Theater in Chicago listing at http://www.theatreinchicago.com/a-cole-porter-songbook/6383/.