Jean Stapleton and Lee Hoiby | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Jean Stapleton and Lee Hoiby

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It takes considerable vocal talent to sound as perfectly dreadful as Jean Stapleton sounded when she screeched her way through "Those Were the Days" on TV's All in the Family. Stapleton established herself as a delightful comic soprano of the Broadway variety back in the mid-1950s, when director George Abbott featured her in Damn Yankees; later she ran the Susanswerphone answering service staged by Judy Holliday in Bells Are Ringing and advised Fanny Brice's mother of what happens when a girl isn't pretty in Funny Girl. Of her current venture, a program of two one-act musical monologues by opera composer Lee Hoiby (Summer and Smoke), Stapleton says, "We have one leg in the concert hall and one leg in the musical theater." The Italian Lesson is Hoiby's 1985 setting of a piece by monologuist Ruth Draper, a subtle portrait of a pretentious, social-climbing matron whose distracted efforts to learn Dante and juggle parental, marital, and extramarital responsibilities reveal the emotional emptiness of her fife. In contrast, Bon Appetit! is a broadly comic musicalization of a 1961 Julia Child broadcast, with Stapleton giving a lesson on how to make Le Gateau au Chocolat l'Eminence Brune, her rendition of Child's famously funny hooting delivery reinforced by Hoiby's playful music. Hoiby accompanies Stapleton on piano in this performance, which is a benefit for the William Ferris Chorale. Saturday, 8 Pm, auditorium, Latin School of Chicago, 59 W. North; 922-2070.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Glenn Matsumura.

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