“OMG. This theater. I’m loving it, and the show hasn’t even started yet.”
This text came from an avid East Coast theatregoer, dispatched by this writer to Theo Ubique’s production of MOST HAPPY FELLA as an introduction to Chicago’s storefront theater scene.
Would he appreciate a cabaret theatre in Rogers Park? The train rumbles right outside No Exit’s front door. The tiny venue’s assorted seats can be hard on the backside. And what about the actors serving dessert at intermission? No worries. He was charmed by the performance space and astonished by the vocal power of MOST HAPPY FELLA’s youthful cast.
The East Coaster’s text from April came to mind this past Sunday at the opening of Theo Ubique’s next production, JACQUES BREL’S LONESOME LOSERS OF THE NIGHT, a revue of some of Brel’s lesser known songs. When pianist Jeremy Ramey began the introduction, so much heart and soul filled the room that another “OMG-this-theater” text was in order.
THEO UBIQUE production puts us into an unglamorous corner
Led by Artistic Director Fred Anzevino, Theo Ubique has persuaded audiences to suspend their disbelief and go to ancient Israel for JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, 19th century Italy for PASSION, and countless places in between. JACQUES BREL’S LONESOME LOSERS OF THE NIGHT, set in a shabby waterfront bar in 1959 in Amsterdam, requires minimal suspension of disbelief. The first number’s lyrics (“In the port of Amsterdam/There are sailors who sing/The dreams that haunt them…”) puts us into an unglamorous corner of mid-20th Century Europe with ease.
LONESOME LOSERS OF THE NIGHT as a monochromatic snapshot
What follows is more contemplative than exhilarating, although the cast does well by their songbook. Randolph Johnson, as the bartender, pours shots and listens to depressed drinkers with mature nonchalance. David Moreland and Neil Stratman – soldiers who spend too much time in bars – project world-weary sadness as they examine their lives.
Jill Sesso, the lone female onstage, does her best to find variety in song after song in which she must play some form of prostitute. As Sesso fulfills this task, it’s impossible to ignore how simplified the world inside No Exit is compared to the world outside. Rogers Park in 2017 is such a diverse neighborhood that Brel’s view of women from 50 years ago seems like a monochromatic snapshot.
LONESOME LOSERS OF THE NIGHT is likely to satisfy Brel enthusiasts or those in the mood for low-key reflection. For more casual fans of his greatest hits, the show has too small a range to sustain excitement. But that’s all right. Plans are afoot for Theo Obique to relocate to Howard Street in Evanston next year. When that happens, it’s more than probable this company will carry its ability to charm and astonish across the border.
Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago.
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Susan Lieberman is a Jeff-winning, Emmy-nominated playwright, journalist and script consultant who commits most of her waking hours to Chicago theatre.