Jane A. Johnston | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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JANE A. JOHNSTON

Jane A. Johnston is the quintessential Manhattan cabaret entertainer--a veteran of Broadway's golden age who's carved out a second career singing songs that demand the kind of hard-earned wisdom only a long life and lots of experience can bring. Specializing in a rarefied sort of arch comedy associated with such long-gone stars as Beatrice Lillie, Johnston juggles standards by the likes of Arlen and Berlin with witty novelty numbers by the likes of Dave Frishberg and her pianist, Billy Barnes--whose most famous song, the bittersweet ballad "(Have I Stayed) Too Long at the Fair," Johnston introduced not long after making her debut in the 1956 Ethel Merman musical Happy Hunting. In Barnes's "A Little Lift," Johnston draws on her own, shall we say, maturity to spoof her peers' obsession with cosmetic surgery; other songs tweak topics ranging from French cuisine to "buns," and she doesn't mean the kind you bake. Recalling Mabel Mercer in her method of alternately singing and declaiming--her enunciation is as impeccable as her gestures are practiced--Johnston harks back to an era of supersophistication whose most reliable weapon, the drolly inflected double entendre, is almost totally neglected in this tell-all age. Friday and Saturday, 10 PM and midnight, Tuesday through Thursday, 9:30 PM, and next Friday and Saturday, May 14 and 15, 10 PM and midnight, Plaza Tavern, 70 W. Monroe; 312-977-1940. ALBERT WILLIAMS

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