Music ReviewsREVIEWSTom Williams

“Oh, Coward!” by Dead Writers Theatre Collective

A Musical Comedy Revue.

Words and Music by Noel Coward.

Devised by Roderick Cook.

Musical Direction by Gerald H. Bailey.

Directed by Cameron Turner.

Produced by Dead Writers Theatre Collective.

At the Athenaeum Theatre, Chicago.

Noel Coward

“I have always been very fond of drama critics…I think it is so frightfully clever of them to go night after night to the theatre and know so little about it.”

“The theatre is a wonderful place, a house of strange enchantment, a temple of illusion. What it most emphatically is not and never will be is a scruffy, ill-lit, fumed-oak drill hall serving as a temporary soap box for political propaganda.” – Noel  Coward.

Ambitious musical revue mostly delivers the sassy wit, very British humor of Noel Coward.

One could say that Gerald Bailey, the musical director, is the real star of Oh, Coward! since his talents got the cast of three to both understand and appreciate the unique approach to Noel Coward’s  style songs. Music directing a song book of more that 35 songs in a distinct style to a cast that is mostly new to Coward’s early 20th Century British sensibilities is a daunting task. Bailey got his cast on board with Coward’s style effectively


Filled with the words and songs of Noel Coward (1899-1973), the English playwright, composer, director, actor and singer, known for his wit and flamboyance,  Oh Coward! is a sharp 35 song-fest that is nicely performed by Michael Pacas, Joanna Riopelle and Ian Rigg with terrific arrangements by Gerald Bailey with fine piano work by Howard Pfeifer.  The non-Equity cast delivered a slick, sophisticated,  mostly well sung musical revue.


Elegance and a carefully crafted image and an acute sense of style were the hallmarks of Noel Coward. That sense is evident in the 30’s art-deco style nightclub set (designed by Eric Luchen)  Style, proper RP English accents,  smartly crafted  enunciation gave the witticism and Coward songs just the proper edge to communicate his effervescent music and lyrics with their proper satirical bite. My only problem was that  Joanna Riopelle constantly failed to both speak and sing loud enough to be heard and understood. Many of Coward’s quips and smart lyrics got lost by Riopelle’s speaking and singing too softly. Once she enunciates and projects stronger, this revue will become a fabulous one. Hopefully, she’ll realize that one must be heard and understood on stage.

Coward’s songbook is in terrific hands with this fabulous threesome. They sing harmonies, they participate in Coward-ish witty repartee to life and social norms as they throughout captivate us.


Joanna Riopelle has her moments in “London Pride,”  ” If Love Were All,” and “Nina.” (Just project more!)Michael Pacas, ever the British gentleman, nicely nails tune like “Why Do the Wrong people Travel,” “This is a Changing World” and “You Were There.” But, newbie Ian Rigg was most impressive here.  He seemed to be channeling Noel Coward with his edge of style, his gestures and his speech patterns. Riggs demonstrated a razor-sharp wit and comic aplomb in  “Let’s Say Goodbye,” ” Mad Dogs and Englishman” “and “Mad About the Boy.” The three-part work by this fine cast landed favorites like the musical ditties–“Chase Me, Charlie, ” What Ho, Mrs. Brisket” and ‘Has Anybody Seen Our Ship?” The classic Coward songs–“Mrs. Worthington” and “I Went to a Marvelous Party” highlighted this revue.Once Joanna Riopelle realizes that she holds the key to make this challenging revue go from a nice show to a terrific one–it will become ‘Marvelous Party.’


Tom Williams

Jeff Recommended<

At the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport, Chicago, IL, call 773-935-6860, tickets $40, Thursday thru Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Wednesdays at 7:30 on August 31, September 7 and 14 plus Sunday matinees at 2:30 pm. Running time is 2 hours with intermission, through September 18, 2016