It was appropriate that Music Theater Works chose a renovated church to pay homage to an American musical deity. The evening was bright and snappy, the three musicians both led and supported the seven singers, who performed Ellington’s hits as solos, duets, trios and ensemble.
MUSIC THEATER WORKS Serves Up Favorites for Everyone
Everyone has personal favorites, and you will find them here. Numbers flowed one into the other: Love You Madly (lyrics by Duke Ellington) sung as a saucy duet by Dawn Bless and Jar’Davion Brown, flowed into Satin Doll (lyrics by Johnny Mercer). Martin L. Woods’s solo of Lush Life (music and lyrics by Bills Strayhorn) was breathtaking. Dawn Bless, with her Ella Fitzgerald-like vocal range and agility, torched In My Solitude (lyrics by Eddie DeLange and Irving Mills). Evan Tyrone Martin’s clear tenor illuminated I Didn’t Know About You (lyrics by Bob Russell). Amanda Horvath’s comic sparkle put a fresh spin on Imagine my Frustration (lyrics by Billy Strayhorn and Gerald Wilson). Caitlyn Glennon’s star turn was on Hit Me With a Hot Note and Watch Me Bounce (lyrics by Don George). Justin Adair’s lyrical tenor showcased Something to Live For (music and lyrics by Billy Strayhorn).
Joey Zymonas Music Director and Rudy Hogenmiller Director Craft a Solid Production
Musical Director, Joey Zymonas, an extraordinary jazz pianist, had the unenviable task of recreating the style of pianist Duke Ellington. He carefully orchestrated the flow of songs and edited their length to include 31 pieces in 80 minutes. If anything, individual songs, especially ensemble numbers, could have been longer because the audience enjoyed them so much. The evening was billed as two hours, with 15 minutes intermission. The performance ran 95 minutes with intermission.
Costumes Take You to the Cotton Club
Though the Nichols Concert Hall’s stage was plain, Connor O. Speck’s costumes put the performers at the Cotton Club in the 30’s. The men were in tuxedos in the first half and tails for part of the second half—classy. The women’s dresses were slinky, sexy and fun, shine and sparkle, black and silver, with lots of costume changes.
From this writer's viewpoint, the portable microphones were not an improvement. They seemed to give the music a hard, artificial tone. In a hall this small, why not use natural sound? OK, lots of seniors in the audience likely appreciated the bright, harsh sound because they can hear better. For some of us, there is also an inherent difficulty in reproducing the lush fullness of Ellington’s sound with just a piano, base violin and drummer. Time to haul out the old 33’s and listen to full orchestra.
Join the MUSIC THEATER WORKS for a Great Night in Evanston
IMHO, Music Theater Works does a good job of paying tribute to Duke Ellington, with the limitations noted above. An evening in Evanston is a pleasure. Convenient, low cost parking and loads of great restaurants in walking distance. Enjoyable date night for all ages.
Running time: 2 hours, including one intermission
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Thru October 15.
Nichols Concert Hall
1490 Chicago Avenue
Parking available on the street and in several nearby parking garages
Age 25 and younger 1/2 price (suitable for 10 and older).
Purchase tickets Music Theater Works website, or call (847) 920-5360
Photos by Brett Beiner
Photos courtesy of Musical Theater Works
Ann Boland is committed to Chicago theater. Involved in the audience since the early 80’s, she’s witnessed firsthand the rise of our theater scene, our exceptional local talent, and the vigor of each new generation. Ann handles public relations for authors and works on programs to help seniors with neurological movement disorders.