RedEye

'A Cole Porter Songbook' at Theo Ubique Theatre Company ★★★½

Vocal quality really matters at the Theo Ubique Theatre Company, the shabby-chic venue for small musicals in Rogers Park, so it's no surprise that director Fred Anzevino's simple but delightful and lovely new summer Cole Porter revue is beautifully sung. But familiarity with this special, no-dress-code place does not compromise the sheer pleasure of perching oneself on a bar stool or at a cramped table, feeling the warm breeze from the street and "L" tracks outside, and experiencing the only-in-Chicago auditory combination of "Let's Misbehave," sung with passionate enthusiasm, and the words "doors closing," spoken with, well, comforting CTA certitude.

For romantics, such a blend is inclined to prompt a feeling of warm fulfillment and a determination never to belong to anywhere else. Working with the skillful and youthful arranger Aaron Benham and a three-piece combo, Anzevino has eschewed the extant Porter revues, none of which is that great, in favor of his own creation, which packs a couple dozen Porter ditties into two hours of stage traffic in the capable hands of performers Jill Sesso (a real vocal powerhouse), Christopher Logan (ever earnest in execution yet light on his toes), William Lucas (a charmer) and Sierra Naomi Nibbe (a very sensual newcomer with considerable chops).

One gets far more choreography (wittily done by David Heimann) than one expects from such small revues.

Frankly, it's a bit of a relief to be able to enjoy such a droll performance of "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" without having to sit through the entire duration of "Kiss Me Kate." But the greatest-hits attributes are not the main appeal of this particular "Cole Porter Songbook." Even though there are no spoken words or explicit settings, Anzevino and Benham somehow manage to make this show into a strikingly profound meditation on Porter's artistry. There's something about these particular actors, this particular direction, this particular venue that strips away a lot of the usual varnish.

Porter was, of course, a master of the double-entendre, a skill deftly exploited here, along with the lively expression of the humor of "Anything Goes" and so on.

But there is an obfuscation and melancholy behind so many of these songs, a spirit of unfulfilled longing and latent desire. When this cast performs "So in Love" — gorgeously — that's all you can think about as you sit in the No Exit Cafe, pondering the passing of another summer in the city to the soundtrack of a bygone era.

cjones5@tribune.com

Twitter@ChrisJonesTrib

When: Through July 21

Where: No Exit Cafe, 6970 N. Glenwood Ave.

Running time: 2 hours

Tickets: $29-$59 at 800-595-4849 or theo-u.com

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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