The last time you could see a significant production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Aspects of Love" in Chicago was more than 20 years ago, when a touring company played the old Civic Theatre, now used by the Lyric Opera as a rehearsal space. The No Exit Cafe in Rogers Park is a far cry from that, but, under the imaginative direction of Fred Anzevino, this throbbing, late-1980s tuner becomes quite the sexy vehicle for the luminous Kelli Harrington, the actress who won the Jeff Award last year for her work in "The Light in the Piazza" at this very theater.
"Aspects of Love," which can be amusing in moments its creators did not intend, is no "Piazza." Its plot — which reminds one partly of "La Ronde" and partly of the lazy sensual ambience of the movie "Stealing Beauty" — ultimately involves the potential seduction of a young girl, a theme that has not aged well. But the Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre continues its remarkably consistent run, turning out a beautifully sung non-Equity production that showcases, along with Harrington's, the formidable talents of two other women who revolve in and out of each other's love lives, the delightfully ironic Colette Todd and the remarkably intense Rochelle Therrien. Partly by necessity in such a small space, Anzevino wisely stays away from the florid qualities of a piece that can bog down in its own portentousness, focusing instead on the desperate nature of the sensualist lives it takes from the David Garnett novel of the same name.
Harrington, a huge talent, really is spectacularly suited to the role of Rose Vibert, the hungry actress who tours in Ibsen and gets addicted to the drama of all that, not to mention two different men: Alex (Matthew Keffer) and George (Sean Thomas). Alas, as she laments on more than one occasion, she has only one life to love. The weakness of this production involves how much you do (or don't) believe in the depth of the connection between Harrington and these men, who can be overly hesitant. And there are times when Thomas, whose George is the one with the money, could show more of the fangs of power. But even if some of the acting occasionally feels isolated, the characters are vivid, the ensemble is part of the emotional pull, and the stakes rise exactly as they should. And the singing really is something to hear, especially in such close quarters.
The vocals are matched by the cleverness of Anzevino's staging — what used to be the over-the-top production numbers now feel quite organic and earnest — and also by the undeniably immersive quality of the production, which is costumed with great elegance and sensuality by Bill Morey, who takes full advantage of this cast of beautiful people, all messing each other up.
When: Through April 21
Where: No Exit Cafe, 6970 N. Glenwood Ave.
Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes
Tickets: $30-$64 (some price levels include dinner) at 800-595-4849 or theo-u.com