Arts & Culture » Theater Critic's Choice

Justin Hayford

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With his pleasant light baritone, cabaret artist Justin Hayford is an appealing but unexceptional crooner; his piano playing is sophisticated but not virtuosic. What distinguishes Hayford is his affinity for quirky and neglected material and the simple honesty with which he performs it. His show "Look Who's Been Dreaming," timed to promote a new CD of the same name, features 18 obscure but delightful numbers by Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Harold Arlen, Dorothy Fields, Frank Loesser, Sammy Cahn, Jimmy Van Heusen, and other masters from the golden age of the Hollywood musical. The songs are jewels, and Hayford's understated delivery highlights the fine craftsmanship that informs even the least familiar of them. His bemused air suits the droll wit of charmers like Vee Lawnhurst and Tot Seymour's "Us on a Bus" (1936), Louis Alter and Arthur Swanstram's "Come Up and See Me Sometime" (1933), and "They All Fall in Love" (1929), a quintessential Porter list song. But he's stronger still interpreting serious fare like Porter's poignant "It Must Be Fun to Be You" (1943) and Frank Churchill and Oliver Wallace's moving "Baby Mine" (sung by a mother elephant to her floppy-eared offspring in the 1941 Disney classic Dumbo); Hayford's thoughtful, conversational phrasing communicates a depth of feeling that a more bravura delivery might obscure. (In the interest of full disclosure: as a theater reviewer for the Reader, Hayford gets his assignments from me.) Davenport's Piano Bar & Cabaret, 1383 N. Milwaukee; 773-278-1830. Through February 28: Saturdays, 8 PM.

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