Chicago Theatre Review
Heaven on Earth
Honky Tonk Angels – Theo Ubique
Theo Ubique is doing what this company does best: a beautifully directed and performed musical revue. But this production is definitely one of the finest, most professionally polished, well-sung and warmly welcoming shows of their long history. Audiences walk into the No Exit Cafe and suddenly find themselves transported to another world. Just in time for the holidays, these three country/western Angels create a musical heaven on earth, flavored with an authentic Nashville sound.
The intimate cafe has been entirely transformed into an authentic-looking Tennessee Honky Tonk bar. This faithfully executed environment is the artistry of talented scenic designer Adam Veness. The dark wooden walls, rough-hewn pillars, multilevel stage and bandstand are warmly lit by designer James Kolditz. The set also includes sliding barn door walls that reveal some additional surprises. Theatergoers will feel right at home in the seating gallery or at several teahouse tables, where dinner and beverages can be enjoyed before the show and during intermission. Vittles are cheerfully served, for your pleasure, by the cast and support staff.
The revue is the creation of prolific playwright Ted Swindley, whose most famous work, “Always…Patsy Cline,” was recently presented by this company to great acclaim. Some of his other works include a musical sequel and a “Holiday Spectacular,” which we can only hope will be part of a future season. Swindley’s playlist for this production features over two dozen toe-tapping country/western tunes, most of which will be familiar to audiences.
The revue is musically directed by the company’s incomparable Jeremy Ramey, who also accompanies on piano, backed by the talented Carlos Mendoza on drums, Alex Piazza on bass and Perry Cowdery on guitar. Courtney Crouse guides this production with love and care, staging his singers virtually all over the No Exit Cafe. Cameron Turner keeps the joint jumping with his spirited choreography and Bill Morey, once again, convincingly costumes his cast and musicians in appropriate country accouterment.
But it’s the cast of this production that truly dazzles the audience. All three women are lovable, gregarious young gals who, as Jerry Herman wrote, “could charm the husk right off of the corn.” The show is led by Chicago musical star, Colette Todd. The beautiful redhead plays Angela, a loving mother who leaves her husband Bubba and kids behind to find herself. There’s no creative outlet for her back home and Angela wants to, at least, test the musical waters of Nashville. Ms. Todd is an accomplished actress and singer, having recently played leading roles in “Next to Normal,” “Big Fish” and, at Theo Ubique, “Passion.” In this show, she grounds this talented trio. Angela delights audiences with songs like “Stand By Your Man,” “Don’t Come Home a Drinkin’” and a wonderful “Harper Valley PTA,” as well as several other solos, duets and ensemble numbers.
Jacquelyne Jones, remembered for her stunning portrayals in Kokandy’s “Heathers: the Musical” and “Company” at Writers Theater, plays Sue Ellen, an attractive young woman who’s left her small town behind in order to become a career woman in California. When things turn sour there she travels to Nashville, where she meets and immediately forms a deep friendship with Angela and Darlene. Sue Ellen’s numbers include favorite hits “9 to 5,” “These Boots are Made for Walking,” “Cleopatra, Queen of Denial” and “Cornell Crawford.”
Artistic director Fred Anzevino is particularly adept at discovering new talent. In this revue he brings us an exciting young actor/singer/musician named Leryn Turlington. She plays Darlene, a kid who’s decided to leave her West Virginian home to make it big in Nashville. Fairly new to Chicago, by way of Oklahoma, Leryn’s talents have previously been enjoyed in Drury Lane’s “White Christmas” and “Bye Bye Birdie.” This show provides Ms. Turlington with an opportunity to really strut her stuff and show off her considerable charm and talents. Leryn is a sweet, likable actor with so much charisma that audiences immediately embrace her. She’s a gifted songbird, dazzling with songs like “Coal Miners Daughter,” “Ode to Billy Joe” and “Fancy.” And, if that weren’t enough, Ms. Turlington is also an accomplished guitarist, as well, often accompanying herself and her two magnificent costars.
Winter’s finally arrived, but this charming, sweetly sung and expertly accompanied new revue is guaranteed to warm the hearts of every theatergoer looking for a homey, humorous and harmonious evening of entertainment. These ladies lift their voices in song in many of country/western’s best-loved
melodies. Each and every song touches the soul and coaxes a smile, while setting the audience’s toes-a-tappin’. Suddenly there’s a little bit of Nashville heaven on earth in Chicago.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented December 9-January 29 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 area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.