The Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre, that indomitable little storefront operation in Rogers Park that won four major Non-Equity Jeff Awards Monday night, does a near miraculous job of reinventing Broadway musicals, and putting the snap, crackle and pop into original revues based on the great American songbook. If you have yet to discover the company, or if you just need to be reminded of the immense wit, technical polish and heart it brings to everything it touches, the theater’s newest show, “A Musical Tribute to the Andrews Sisters,” is a terrific entry point.
Winningly directed and choreographed by David Heimann, with sophisticated musical arrangements by Aaron Benham, and sparkling musical direction by pianist Alex Newkirk (backed by a drummer and trumpeter), the revue, conceived with artistic director Fred Anzevino, is not just an homage to those three magically synchronized sisters whose harmonies helped define the swing and boogie-woogie eras. It also is a fresh, poignant and often playful celebration of what has come to be known as “The Greatest Generation” — that crucial segment of the population that lived through the Great Depression and World War II, and then emerged triumphant to thrive in the middle years of “The American Century.”
Best of all, this revue features three sublime actress-singers as Laverne, Maxine and Patty Andrews — Sarah Larson, Jordan Yentz and Casi Maggio (ideally coiffed as a blonde, brunette and redhead thanks to Michael Buonincontro’s period-perfect wigs), as well as a Bob Hope-like interlocutor (William Lucas). And they all bring such vintage authenticity to their performances that they might very well have stepped out of Life magazine. Their faces, their winking engagement with the audience, and, of course, their flawless way with more than two dozen instantly recognizable songs by a multitude of composers and lyricists (from the Gershwins and Harold Arlen, to lesser-known names) could not be more impeccable.
The show begins with everyone in khaki uniforms as part of a USO show, with songs about leaving lovers behind and traveling the world. This is followed by an “armed forces salute” paying homage to each branch of the service (it brought one elderly man in the audience to tears), as well as that more humorous Irving Berlin military life classic, “Oh How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning,” and Raye & Prince’s “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.”
In the second act, the ladies return in shimmering “post-war” cocktail dresses (cheers to designer Bill Morey), and sing many more of the Andrews Sisters’ greatest hits from a career during which they sold well over 75 million records. Included is everything from “Straighten Up and Fly Right” and “Bei Mir Bist du Schon,” to a medley of polkas and the bittersweet “I’ll Be Seeing You.”
The Andrews Sisters embodied a very different time in this country, but their wistful, teasing, optimistic spirit has all the best properties of a revitalizing tonic. It will do you good.
NOTE: Theatergoers may order an Andrews Sisters-themed three-course dinner served by the actors before the show (with 1940s chocolate cream pie dessert during intermission) for an additional $25. Dinner reservations must be purchased together with ticket orders.