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This curious hybrid--a fusion of Broadway musical and ancient Chinese drama--is the second in a three-part series of free concert readings of plays reviewed by the late Claudia Cassidy, the feared and/or revered Chicago critic. Based on Pi-Pa-Ki ("The Story of the Lute"), a 14th-century court drama popular for six centuries, Lute Song was translated and adapted by Sidney Howard and Will Irwin and set to Raymond Scott and Bernard Hanighen's score; it opened on Broadway in 1946, starring Mary Martin and Yul Brynner (in his first stage role) as the lovers reunited despite famine, floods, and a second wife. A moderate hit, Lute Song first played Chicago at the old Studebaker (now the Fine Arts); Dolly Haas (wife of theater cartoonist Al Hirschfeld) replaced Martin as the female lead. And 51 years later, this fairy-tale musical still delights. Blending mandarin ornateness with artless romance, the script is every bit as charming as "Mountain High, Valley Low," the show's hit number, and Robert Scogin's respectful chamber-theater staging boasts an unimprovable cast. Lisa Tejero is deeply moving as the reverent, faithful wife; Christian Gray stalwart as her husband, a commoner who becomes a chief magistrate; Adrianne Cury appropriately noble as his second wife; and Tony Dobrowolski hilarious as the haughty Imperial Preceptor. Fresh performances of the show's seven songs by Chad Suitts and Heather Miller, accompanied by Phillip Stewart, make the work so immediate we feel we're back in the old Studebaker. Chicago Cultural Center, Claudia Cassidy Theater, 78 E. Washington (second floor), 312-742-1079. Through December 15: Sundays, 2 PM; Mondays, 7 PM. Free. ---Lawrence Bommer

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): theater still.

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