Arts & Culture » Theater Critic's Choice

A Shine On Your Shoes

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Pianist and vocalist Kevin Cole has been called the best Gershwin interpreter since Gershwin. More broadly, he's a devoted student of the golden age of the Broadway musical; whether he's performing Cole Porter, Harold Arlen, or Jerome Kern, he makes the tunes sound immediate and alive. He also likes to uncover obscurities, which sometimes means he has to rearrange the material for piano himself--but whether he's adapting a big-band number or writing incidental music to bridge two tunes, he stays true to the composer's sensibility. For A Shine on Your Shoes, Cole and book writer Leeds Bird devised a clever narrative to string together well-known and half-forgotten songs by lyricist Howard Dietz and composer Arthur Schwartz, a team most active in the 30s and 40s. Though few of the duo's musicals were hits, the wit, intimacy, and insouciance of their work earned them a small but loyal following, and many of their songs--including "That's Entertainment" and "Something to Remember You By"--are now standards. A Shine on Your Shoes, to be premiered in two staged readings this Sunday at Ravinia, is set at a midwestern college reviving Dietz and Schwartz's 1931 revue, The Band Wagon; the school has brought in a Broadway director, and during rehearsals a debate rages between the students and faculty, who insist on historical accuracy, and the director, who wants to tweak the lyrics and hire a big band to "update" the production. Six songs from Band Wagon are featured in the show within the show, and nine songs from other Dietz-Schwartz collaborations are woven into the plot. The cast of ten are all Cole's students in the new music-theater program at Ravinia's Steans Institute for Young Artists; Cole will be at the piano. Note: You must have a ticket to Sunday's main event--the Ravinia Festival Orchestra's pops concert with the Canadian Brass--to attend either performance of A Shine on Your Shoes. There's no additional charge, but seating is limited and a separate pass is required. Sunday, August 26, 4:30 and 9:30 PM, Bennett-Gordon Hall, Ravinia Park, Green Bay and Lake Cook Rds., Highland Park; 847-266-5100.

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