By Erin Fleming
Light Opera Works’ fall concert Let Me Entertain You: Jule Styne’s Greatest Hits delivers what is expected from a good revue. It economically showcases many of the company’s favorite performers between full scale productions and whets the audience’s appetite for future shows featuring Jule Styne’s music.
The popular Evanston theater, which rebrands itself as Musical Theater Works starting next January, will mount two of Styne’s musicals in 2017: Peter Pan, on which he worked with lyricists Comden and Green, and the show many consider to be his masterpiece collaboration with Sondheim, Gypsy.
Styne is probably known best for those two shows as well as for Funny Girl, but his appreciation of all genres and true gift for collaboration distinguish him as one of the most versatile songwriters of his time. Director Rudy Hogenmiller pulls an interesting sampling from Styne’s diverse catalog, almost as if he’s creating a mixtape of his favorite band to share with a friend. Some of the titles aren’t instantly recognizable, but almost all the melodies are.
Act One focuses on the music Styne wrote for the Broadway stage. The ensemble jumps in with a medley from Gypsy, leading up to a knockout rendition of “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” by the incomparable Mary Robin Roth, who wowed Light Opera audiences earlier this year as Vera Charles in Mame. Roth goes on to dazzle with her renditions of “If You Hadn’t But You Did,” and her duet with the charming Larry Adams on “I Still Get Jealous.. Roth’s comic timing and instant relatability as any character especially shine during these showtunes. Another act highlight is Kelly Britt’s understated but ultimately incredibly powerful rendition of “Don’t Rain On My Parade.”
Act Two features Styne pop tunes (“The Christmas Waltz”, “Let It Snow,” “Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out Dry,” “Time After Time”) and songs he wrote for the movies, including three of his many Academy Award nominees for Best Original Song: “It’s Magic,” “I’ve Heard That Song Before,” and “Three Coins In A Fountain,” for which he won the Oscar in 1955. Justin Adair stuns with a gorgeous tenor turn in “A Ride On A Rainbow,” and Emily Barnash delivers a wonderfully sultry “It’s Been a Long Long Time.”
At times, the younger ensemble members, (Adair, Barnash, Britt and Roberts), struggle a bit to find the balance between cute and corny bits and straight-forward treatments of songs. In that light, it’s hard not to compare them with seasoned performers like Roth and Adams, who just make it look so easy. On press night there were occasional pitchy moments and some stiffness to the choreography, but overall the ensemble blends and works well together. No doubt the best performances are due in no small part to the light hand of Musical Director and Conductor Linda Madonia, accompanied by the outstanding rhythm section of bassist Joseph Krzysiak and drummer Joey Zymonas. It is especially fun to watch Zymonas’ interaction with and reaction to the performers.
Let this revue entertain you, enlighten you and remind you of some of your favorite songs.
Light Opera Works presents ” Let Me Entertain You: Jule Styne’s Greatest Hits,” through October 16 at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Ave., Evanson.Moe information and tickets (starting at $34 half price for patrons age 25 and younger) are available here. Photos by Brett Beiner.