Flashing her stunning blue eyes in anger, actress/singer Emily Goldberg musters her persona of Mrs. Santa Claus with a Slavic vamp demeanor. She is admonishing Blitzen to hurry as he buttons her red cape. For some of the grey hairs in the audience she strikes the funny bone by so reminding of Natasha from The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. A bare-chested Santa turns his back to her and walks off, leaving her to pine in song about spending every Xmas alone. What’s so special about his saying who is naughty and who is nice? And could he possibly give Miracle on 34th Street a rest? And so on—these are lyrics designed to rally the laughs. Meanwhile, Goldberg writhes through her one-prop chair, runs to jump on Theo Ubique’s cabaret space bar as added exclamation marks to her singing soliloquy. She coyly smiles when noting that while he’s gone, she still has the elves. The audience is prompted to grin under their masks with her every line and clown-siren pout. Her final declaration of finding freedom from those Santa claws brings out the hurrahs.
This performance of Surabaya Santa was not Goldberg’s first singing comic persona in the nearly twenty song musical Songs for a New World. Nor is Goldberg the only talent on the stage. Goldberg as Woman 2 is one of four vocal powerhouses that zip to all corners of Theo Ubique’s intimate cabaret space, telling stories in song vignettes or spilling riveting affect as they flex their vocal chords.
In this writer’s view, it is somewhat astounding to learn that electric Eustace J. Williams was an understudy until recently, as he seems, if anything, born to bring the songs he is given to life. In one moment, he pulls us into that uplifting space where Gospel and Soul intermingle in pop coloratura, in another he uses his wide eyes and long fingers to telegraph the inner life of a prisoner who was once King of the World. Crisscrossing the room he leans into us—and we all are close in this cabaret soiree space—and avers “…you don’t know me, but you will…”
Theo Ubique Uses Their Unique Cabaret Space to the Max
In moments just as compelling, in this writer’s view, are the sweeter songs from Woman 1, Nora Navarro and the soothing made-for-musical-theater voice of Man 2, Matthew Hunter. Best, we get to see these gifted standouts so, so close. The cabaret seating is a bit more spacious than before the pandemic. Each grouping of seats has a stage in the middle that we only appreciate once the performance begins. As they sing, they zip to all corners, on the mini-stage proper and center, usually turning to each compass point of the audience. How perfect is this intimacy for this unique time when we all are making our way to out of pandemic-imposed isolation to see LIVE entertainment post-vaccination.
Don’t come expecting a story line, smooth sequiturs or a cohesive narrative. Greater minds might be able to read patterns in the tea leaves to find some deep connective layer. This writer, however, thinks the huh? merited by the song title Surabaya Santa sums it up nicely. Why worry about some overarching theme when there is just so much to enjoy in the moment?
If you love LIVE entertainment and especially in small intimate spaces this is a top pick for your time. If you perhaps over-worry that masking and vaccine proof upon entry isn’t assuring enough, it’s probably best to steer clear of Theo Ubique for a bit longer.
Note: Picture this Post reviews are excerpted by Theatre in Chicago.
Woman 1 Nora Navarro
Woman 2 Emily Goldberg
Man 1 Eustace J. Williams
Man 2 Matthew Hunter
Cathy Reyes McNamara (Woman 1, Woman 2)
Laz Estrada (Man 1, Man 2)
Artistic Director: Fred Anzevino
Musical Director: Jeremy Ramey
Choreography and Associate Director: Jamal Howard
Drums/Percussion: Lior Shragg, PhD
Original Orchestration: Brian Besterman & Jason Robert Brown
Through October 24, 2021
Thursdays - Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays 3 pm
Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre
721 Howard Street
Evanston, IL 60202
Photos by Liz Lauren
About the Author: Amy Munice
Amy Munice is Editor-in-Chief and Co-Publisher of Picture This Post. She covers books, dance, film, theater, music, museums and travel. Prior to founding Picture This Post, Amy was a freelance writer and global PR specialist for decades—writing and ghostwriting thousands of articles and promotional communications on a wide range of technical and not-so-technical topics.
Amy hopes the magazine’s click-a-picture-to-read-a-vivid-account format will nourish those ever hunting for under-discovered cultural treasures. She especially loves writing articles about travel finds, showcasing works by cultural warriors of a progressive bent, and shining a light on bold, creative strokes by fledgling artists in all genres.