By Erin Fleming
And this old world is a new world
And a bold world
And I’m feeling good
Theo Ubique is serving up some much needed feeling good summer entertainment with the wonderfully conceived and directed cabaret, An Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse Songbook.
The British songwriters Newly and Bricusse never really caught on as household names on this side of the pond, although they are the team behind many favorite musical theater hits and crooner standards, such as “Candy Man,” “Feeling Good,” ”Who Can I Turn To, ” and “Goldfinger.” Together they created hummable melodies for 1960’s classics like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Stop the World, I Want to Get Off, The Roar of the Greasepaint — The Smell of the Crowd, Doctor Doolittle and, “Thank You Very Much,”…Scrooge.
For this 80-minute evening of songs, Directors Fred Anzevino and Courtney Crouse choose a varied selection of ballads and uptempo pieces from the duo’s songbook Each tune is lovingly crafted and sparingly accompanied by musical director Jeremy Ramey alone on piano, making for seamless transitions from character to character, moment to moment.
The staging borrows heavily from the allegorical music-hall concept behind The Roar of the Greasepaint…, often described as a musical version of Beckett’s Waiting For Godot. Adam Veness’ set pays dutiful tribute with the requisite tree and full moon, as does the featured archetypal relationship between upper class and lower class clowns, embodied throughout this production by David Wesley and Graham Thomas Heacock. Heacock’s hapless waif is a perfect foil to Wesley’s imperial ringmaster, his gorgeous tenor voice thrilling on “Who Can I Turn To?”
The versatile Paige Faye Hauer is playfully sultry belting out “Goldfinger,” and wittingly proper during “Perfectly English.” The cast is filled out by the returning Ryan Armstrong (Theo Ubique fans may remember him from Jesus Christ Superstar and Blood Brothers) who delights with a stirring rendition of “Gonna Build a Mountain,” all the more impressive as it follows Averis I. Anderson’s powerful rendition of “Feeling Good.” New arrangements of old standards like “Candy Man,” and “When You Gotta Go” add a nice touch.
William Morey’s costumes simultaneously evoke sad French clowns and saucy saloon chanteuses in an abstract gamble that completely pays off. Maggie Portman’s choreography empowers the ensemble to brings fresh interpretations to completely realized vignettes. It’s an odd little world they’ve created here, but they’ve done so with absolute commitment and pure imagination.
Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre presents “An Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse Songbook” through through July 31 at No Exit Café, 6970 N. Glenwood Avenue, Chicago. More information and tickets are available here. Photos by Adam Veness.