Chicago Theatre Review
Festivities with Figgy Pudding!
A Very Merry Madrigal
As we draw closer to Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanza, the fast-approaching holiday trifecta can take a lot out of us right about now. All the shopping, decorating and holiday parties make it a nonstop season of frenzy that doesn’t stop until January 1st. But an hour spent at the No Exit Cafe will offer a pleasurable respite from all the holiday hustle and bustle, providing some beautifully sung music, a delicious meal or sweet treats and some laughs to recharge your battery.
Directed and compiled by David Heimann, with musical direction by Aaron Benham and Jeremy Ramey (who also provides superb piano accompaniment), this concert is more in keeping with the company’s “cabaret” label, but with a definite Renaissance Faire feel. As you enter the intimate coffee house, ensemble member Sarah Grant (as the company’s court jester) gleefully announces to everyone your name and the kingdom from which you hail. As the lights darken, amiable innkeeper Tom Chiola selects two audience members to serve as King and Queen of the hour’s festivities, and permission is sought from these two crown-wearing patrons for the events to come.
Mr. Heimann’s six-member ensemble of medieval-clad performers delight with songs and poetry from every era. Opening with the traditional “Wassail, Wassail” (during which warm spiced cider is provided to every audience member), toasts are offered, cheer is given and winter’s chill soon melts away. Delicious six-part harmonies infuse a medley of Olde English carols, a welcome beginning to this ultimately eclectic confection of music. Gilbert & Sullivan’s “A Very Merry Madrigal” delights and segues into more period songs and poetry until the ensemble announces a tribute to winter. Irving Berlin’s “Snow” and a wonderfully simple, heartfelt recitation by cast member Greg Foster of Frost’s “Stopping By Woods” make up this section of auditory treats. Then, as the entire company sings their “Dessert Medley,” the audience is treated to a complimentary bowl of figgy pudding, offering additional sensory delight to the song.
The second half of the program is a mixture of the classical and contemporary. Songs like Anne Murray’s “Snowbird,” beautifully sung by Missy Aguilar, “Turkey Lurkey Time” from Burt Bacharach’s musical “Promises, Promises,” sung by Sarah Grant, a sexy “Santa Baby,” purred to perfection by lovely Molly Kral, and “Winter/The River,” beautifully and sensitively crooned by Andrew Sickel and Greg Foster provides variety to the styles of music. Heimann returns to more traditional madrigal harmonies as he closes his show, but he saves a funny, delectably performed “Christmas Can-Can,” for the finale. In this number every holiday celebrated at this time of the year is represented, including those oft-heard complaints about how every year they start earlier and earlier.
It’s an intimate production, with performers not only using the stage but frequently wandering through the audience as they sing. While the variety of songs sounds strange, the effect is “something for everyone” and, as presented, add up to a very pleasant evening of unique holiday music audiences won’t hear everywhere. Combined with this cast’s genuine good humor and friendliness, Theo Ubique offers a winning and welcome break to the usual holiday hullabaloo.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented Nov. 23-Dec. 22 by Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre at the No Exit Cafe, in Rogers Park, 6970 N. Glenwood Ave.
Tickets are available by calling 800-595-4849 or by visiting www.theo-u.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found at www.theatreinchicago.com.