Tabloid Tuners | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Tabloid Tuners, New Tuners Theatre.

This late-night offering represents an artistic marriage of convenience. It not only provides a forum for the 18 writers and composers in New Tuners' workshop, but in Christopher Gurr's staging it's also a showcase for the five deft actor-singers who tackle the ever-changing material. Providing both thematic continuity and a flexible format is the seemingly inexhaustible subject of tabloid sensationalism. It inspires a gospel dirge and hokey eulogy for the Loch Ness monster and the charming vaudeville saga of a three-cent stamp (a bumptious Bryan Bentlin) whose letter takes half a century to arrive.

Never worse than Saturday Night Live and often as good as Second City, the Tuners' crooners show off many styles: blues (Brian Stepanek as a jauntily corrupt, judge-bribing janitor), the tango ("Dance of the Suits" spoofs cut-rate lawyers), jazz (a funky ballad saluting sex surveys that console us with other people's lack of action), and country music (a tribute to hit men who help harried housewives).

But, just like the supermarket trash, the stuff doesn't hit hard or keep current. It's no challenge to skewer the suckers who dial 900 numbers, the idea of color-coded costuming for success, and the lack of wind in the Windy City (the name refers to our bluster, not our breezes). The best fare fits the singer to the song: Elizabeth Owen belting out a ballad to runaway narcissism, Jill Roberts camping it up in a tawdry salute to recovered memory, and Stacey Bean achieving new depths of victimhood as a lawyer's client.

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