Let Me Entertain You:
Jule Styne’s Greatest Hits
At Light Opera Works(2nd Stage)
by Dan Zeff
Evanston – Each season the Light Opera Works sets aside one of its four shows as a tribute to a popular music composer, moving the venue from the large Kahn Auditorium on the Northwestern University campus to the intimate Nichols Concert Hall several blocks to the south. This year the company is celebrating the stage and motion picture work of Jule Styne in a revue called “Let Me Entertain You.”
Photo Credit: Brett Beiner
The show covers Styne’s work from the early 1940’s to the mid 1960’s. He composed lots of hit numbers on Broadway but only a few hit shows, namely “Funny Girl,” “Gypsy,” and “Gentleman Prefer Blondes.” Company director Rudy Hogenmiller has skimmed about three dozen pieces from the Styne Broadway and Hollywood songbook, many of them standards and many obscurities that are still worth hearing. Styne was fortunate in his lyricists, especially the team of Betty Comden and Adolf Green for the stage works and Sammy Cahn for his motion picture compositions. Several of the songs are more interesting for their words than Styne’s complementary music.
“Let Me Entertain You” follows the usual Light Opera Works format—six performers (in this show three males and three females), little scenery, some atmospheric lighting, and an on stage instrumental trio providing unobtrusive but effective musical accompaniment. The ensemble comes out in semi formalware in the first act and the women change to 1940’s outfits in the second act, reflecting of the preponderance of 1940’s songs. There is no dialogue and no narrative, just a steady flow of about songs, though Hogenmiller endows some of them with enough stage business and choreographed business to suggest mini dramas set to music.
The ensemble can be divided into three pairs—operatic voices (William Roberts and Emily Barnash), a youthful duo (Justin Adair and Kelly Britt), and an older pair (Larry Adams and Mary Robin Roth). The cast mixes and matches throughout the evening, performing solos up to full ensembles. The accompaniment is provided by an onstage instrumental trio consisting of music director Linda Madonia on keyboards, Joseph Krzysiak presiding stoically on the bass and Joey Zymonas having a grand old time on the drums.
Half of the program consists of familiar selections that should send a shock of recognition through the audience, the demographics on opening night tending toward men and women who were present when these songs were first introduced. “Funny Girl” and “Gypsy” are heavily represented, but there was nothing from “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” and some all-timers didn’t make the cut, like “I’ll Walk Alone.” But patrons who can tear up on hearing “Three Coins in the Fountain” or “The Things We Did Last Summer,” or “It’s Been a Long, Long Time” should sigh in contentment. Numbers like the comic “If You Hadn’t But You Did” and the soulful “My Own Morning” make the show a voyage of discovery. Overall, “Let Me Entertain You” portrays a musical world of melody and feeling that was supplanted by the onrush of rock ‘n’ roll 50 years ago, whether for good or not being in the ear of the beholder.
Photo Credit: Brett Beiner
What I most like about these revues is the appropriate modesty of their presentation. The shows are not over produced with shtick and overkill. The music is allowed to stand on its own, with nothing distracting the audience from the music. Adam Veness’s scenic design, Aaron Lorenz’s lighting, and the wardrobe by Alexa Weinzierl provide visual garnishes for the songs without intruding.
The revue for the 2017 season will be devoted to the music of Duke Ellington from October 6th-15th. The shows at Cahn Auditorium will be “Candide” June 3-11, “Gypsy” August 19-27, and “Peter Pan” December 23-January 1. The current season closes out with the operetta classic “Die Fledermaus” December 25-January 1.
The show gets a rating of 3 stars October 2016
“Let Me Entertain You” runs through October 16 at the Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue. Most performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 2 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets start at $30. Call 847 920 5360 or visit www.LightOperaWorks.com.
Contact Dan at ZeffDaniel@yahoo.com.
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