Songs of the Pogo | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Songs of the Pogo

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Actor Frank Farrell and keyboardist Benjamin Masterton have been developing their stage version of Walt Kelly nonsense songs for the past few years at spaces like Raven Theatre and the old Club Lower Links; but now they've expanded it into a full-length revue with the aid of director Richard Henzel, choreographer Ben Tweel, and a delightfully quirky cast: Julia Maish, Bryan Edward Smith, Vic Tarbis, the Friends of the Zoo's Russ Flack, all sporting a lovely array of headgear, including boaters, derbies, and a coonskin cap. The songs--originally created for Kelly's fabulist comic strip Pogo and later set to music by Norman Monath and Kelly himself--are full of the whimsical wordplay and gentle social spoofing that won Pogo a cult following: "I may never be your dish of tea / But baby don't you sugar me," goes a sultry spoof of torch tunes, while another lyric of mock Americana exhorts us to "Twirl! Twirl! Entwiningly twirl / 'Twixt twice twenty twigs passing platitudes plain." Interspersed throughout the silliness are passages from Kelly's memoirs of a 1920s Irish American boyhood--"the will be that was"--as well as a too-brief excerpt from the irreplaceable Pogo strip itself (Flack makes a marvelous Albert Alligator) and a verse by Lewis Carroll, whose literate looniness paved the way for Kelly. Set in a prototypical lodge hall replete with plaques, photos, even a stuffed sailfish, this is a charming foray into the gently ironic, slightly addled nostalgia that was Kelly's specialty. Victory Gardens Studio Theater, 2257 N. Lincoln, 871-3000. Through February 12: Thursdays-Fridays, 8:30 PM; Saturdays, 5:30 and 9 PM. $10-$14.

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