Chicago Theatre Review
An Anthony Newley & Leslie Bricusse Songbook – Theo Ubique
The 1960’s is generally acknowledged as the last decade of the Golden Age of Musical Theatre. During this period, Broadway applauded the opening of such classics as “Hello Dolly,” “Camelot,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Man of La Mancha,” “West Side Story,” “Funny Girl” and “South Pacific.” But the London stage also contributed several fine musicals during this period, as well. In addition to “Oliver,” “Half a Sixpence” and “The Canterbury Tales,” the writing team of Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse cowrote two important musicals that featured a songbook full of ballads, patter songs and uptempo Music Hall style tunes that would soon become standards. These two hit shows were “Stop the World, I Want to Get Off” followed by “The Roar of the Greasepaint—the Smell of the Crowd.” Later, Newley and Bricusse would collaborate in writing the musical “The Good Old, Bad Old Days,” as well as songs for movies like “Scrooge,” “Doctor Doolittle,” Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” and, along with John Barry, the title song for the James Bond classic, “Goldfinger.”
While this composing duo may not be as familiar to younger audiences as Stephen Sondheim, Andrew Lloyd Webber or even Rodgers & Hammerstein and Lerner & Loewe, they’re responsible for some wonderful, memorable music. Many of their songs have been performed and recorded by popular singers, including Judy Garland, Sammy Davis Jr., Shirley Bassey, Tony Bennett, Harry Connick Jr. and Mariah Carey, and any movie fan is certainly familiar with at least a few of their Oscar and Grammy Award-winning tunes.
Fred Anzevino and Courtney Crouse have dug through the Anthony Newley/Leslie Bricusse songbook to create an original revue guaranteed to cure those Summertime blues. Arranged, musically, directed and accompanied by brilliant artist Jeremy Ramey, with a splash of clever, spicy choreography by Maggie Portman, the masters of Chicago cabaret theatre have once again fashioned another wonderful 80-minute presentation of the best from these two British composer/lyricists. While younger theatergoers in attendance, unfamiliar with Newley and Bricusse’s work, may be discovering their music for the first time, many of the songs included in this revue are bound to evoke fond memories for other patrons. Yet, in traditional Theo Ubique fashion, there’s also a number of forgotten or brand new gems that’ll delight even the most jaded musical theatre enthusiast.
The more familiar tunes probably come their film music. From “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” we have the gorgeous ballad, “Pure Imagination,” which opens this revue, as well as the award-winning “The Candy Man.” Taken from “Doctor Doolittle,” we have “Fabulous Places;” from “Scrooge,” we have “Thank You Very Much;” and from “Goldfinger,” we have the seductive title song.
But the majority of the songs come from Newley and Bricusse’s two biggest stage successes, as well as a lesser-known epic musical that pitted a devilish character named Bubba against God as he tries to convince the Holy Father not to destroy the world. He does this by presenting an historical pageant of mankind. From that musical, “The Good Old, Bad Old Days,” we’re treated to “Mustn’t Grumble, Can’t Complain” (actually later cut from the show), “Yesterday,” “Tomorrow,” and “Today,” as well as the title tune. However, one of the most beautiful songs in this revue is the musical’s “The Fool Who Dared to Dream.”
From the composers’ first big hit show, “Stop the World, I Want to Get Off,” we have the humorous “Mumbo Jumbo,” the very proper “Perfectly English,” the inspiring “Gonna Build a Mountain” and the affecting “Once in a Lifetime.”
However, the majority of the revue, and seemingly the visual concept for Anzevino and Crouse’s show, is taken from “The Roar of the Greasepaint—the Smell of the Crowd.” In that allegorical production two Music Hall style clowns, the lower class Cocky and the upper class Sir, compete in a game of life in which the rules are forever changing. Lesser familiar tunes include “What a Man,” “This Dream,” “It Isn’t Enough” and “My Way.” The better known songs, performed with gusto, include “Where Would You Be Without Me?,” “Look at that Face,” the joyous “On a Wonderful Day Like Today” the soulful “Feeling Good” and, concluding the revue, the poignant and sadly beautiful “Who Can I Turn To?”
And where does Theo Ubique find these talented new triple threats? It seems as if Fred Anzevino and Courtney Crouse discover and cast fresh, gifted young actor/singers with every one of their productions. Of the five talented men and women performing in this revue, only one has ever appeared on the No Exit stage before. Ryan Armstrong, excellent in Anzevino’s “Passion,” “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Blood Brothers,” stands out once again in this show. His renditions of “Gonna Build a Mountain” and “The Fool Who Dared to Dream” are sublime. Averis I. Anderson, a recent Louisiana transplant, dazzles with his performances of “The Candy Man” and the glorious “Feeling Good.” Lovely Paige Faye Hauer, the lone lady of this cast, amuses with her “Perfectly English,” induces goosebumps with her “Once in a Lifetime” and turns into a sultry, sexy siren with her interpretation of “Goldfinger.”
But the two stars of this revue are David Wesley Mitchell and Graham Thomas Heacock. Both of these captivating new young singers easily evoke the spirit and essence of Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse’s music. Mr. Mitchell, as the domineering Sir, croons “The Dream” and takes the lead in “Where Would You Be Without Me?” He’s complemented by the diminutive, subservient Cocky, portrayed by Mr. Heacock. His beautiful high tenor caresses songs like “Pure Imagination,” “Thank You Very Much” and the breathtaking “Who Can I Turn To?” Together this duo charm with “It Isn’t Enough,” the trio melodies of “Yesterday,” “Tomorrow,” and “Today” as well as the moving “My Way.” Hopefully audiences will be seeing a lot more of all five of these terrific actor/singers in the near future.
Once again the creative team of Anzevino and Crouse, ably assisted by Jeremy Ramey’s brilliant musical direction, arrangement and classy piano accompaniment, and choreographed by the multitalented Maggie Portman, have presented a gorgeous musical revue that melds the familiar with the obscure. This production will both entertain and educate, dazzling the viewer with exciting new talent, clothed in William Morey’s evocative costumes and played upon Adam Veness’ simple, yet stunning cabaret setting. This much-welcome addition to the hot time, Summer-in-the-city that is Chicago will leave audiences “Feeling Good.”
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented June 10-July 31 by Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre at the No Exit Cafe, 6970 N. Glenwood Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling 800-595-4849 or by going to www.theo-u.com.
Additional information about this and other fine area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com