I've thought a great deal about the terrific music of Richard Maltby, Jr. and David Shire over the years. I can't say I ever thought of it as a soundtrack for swingers.
But lava lamps, leopard skin prints and, most central of all, a giant bed (room for at least three) make up the environment at the Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre, where the early Maltby and Shire revue "Starting Here, Starting Now" (not to be confused with the other Maltby and Shire revue, "Closer Than Ever") opened Saturday night, in the spruced-up, repainted No Exit Café. Theo Ubique, which has been on a roll this last year, has even figured out a way to cram in a few more seats into its jewelbox storefront space without spoiling the intimacy of the only theater in town where the actors finish the first act, a few feet from your face, and then start serving you carrot cake.
It's certainly true that "Starting Here, Starting Now" was first seen in 1976 (prior to such Maltby and Shire shows as "Baby" and "Big"). And I suspect the capable director, Fred Anzevino, also got the conceptual bug from noting how many of the songs in the piece seem to feature young characters negotiating life and love ("Beautiful" and "I Think I May Want to Remember Today"). Nobody misses the No Exit bar stools in shows like this, but this particular Anzevino conception does not feel as seamless as some of his formidable past productions. There is a certain sweetness and naivete to Maltby and Shire ditties (which I don't mean pejoratively; they always knew their way around dreams and vulnerability). Still, even in 1976, Maltby and Shire would not have been on the hi-fi much at the Playboy Club. They were known for their love of aspiration; they weren't known for penning a soundtrack for hedonism.
That said, the performers are very charming and there's plenty here to enjoy for Maltby and Shire fans. The standout is Hillary Patingre, a lovely young soprano with a gorgeous voice 6 and considerable charm, but the ever-sophisticated Stephanie Herman also nails, with admirable direct simplicity, both "A Girl You Should Know" and "What About Today?" Handsome young Teddy Boone has to fix an occasional vocal wobble, but he certainly has the charm to work closely with both of these strong woman at once. He's especially strong on "I Don't Remember Christmas," the darkest piece of the night.
That closeness, alas, does not extend to the musical department. I miss the close relationship between musicians and performers that past Theo Ubique shows have explored (Eugene Dizon is the capable musical director, but you don't get the sense of shared intimacy for which this theater is known).
At Theo Ubique, it's rare for concept and material not to feel like they were made for each other. Anzevino obviously wants to push a steamier Maltby and Shire (one flashy number is like a mini Ziegfeld folly). Fair enough. But while characters rolling around in a bed may be having a good time, they just don't take as easily to singing about crossword puzzles, or the first day of the rest of their lives.
When: Through Nov. 6
Where: No Exit Café, 6970 N. Glenwood Ave.
Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes
Tickets: $25-30 at 773-347-1109 or theoubique.orgCopyright © 2015, RedEye