Gretchen Cryer, who's in Chicago for the first time since 1981, when she starred here in her musical I'm Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road, offers a generously long and musically rich evening of pop story telling in her new cabaret act. The well-remembered older repertoire--songs from musicals she wrote with Nancy Ford in the 1970s, such as Shelter and the aforementioned I'm Getting My Act Togetber--is balanced with new material in veins both plain and fancy. Songs from Cryer's new independently produced cassette, Back in My Life, reflect her small-town midwestern upbringing, with a slightly country-gospel flavor that well suits her plaintive and powerful singing style. The evening concludes with Cryer--ably backed by pianist-singer Michael O'Flaherty--giving an informal, audition-style presentation of selections from the brand-new, still-unproduced Cryer-Ford show: a musical fantasy about Eleanor Roosevelt as seen through the eyes of Eleanor's iconoclastic, mischievously bitchy cousin Alice Roosevelt Longworth. Cryer's openness, intelligence, warmth, and professionalism, as well as her soaring pop soprano (frequently recalling Carly Simon, with occasional surprising echoes of Barbara Cook), make this an especially pleasing evening. Tonight through Saturday, and Tuesday through next Saturday, December 17, Ruggles Cabaret Bar, Royal-George Theatre, 1641 N. Halsted; 988-9000.