- The Washington Times - Monday, May 14, 2007

The In Series — pretty much the only troupe in town that regularly stages offbeat classical and popular cabaret laced with poetry readings, economical zarzuela performances and oddball re-imaginings of classic operas — has led a precarious life of changing fortunes and venues over the years.

Yet its spiffy new cabaret presentation, “Fascinating Rhythm: The Roaring 20s,” running at the once-and-future Source Theatre, marks the conclusion of its 25th season in the nation’s capital — quite an accomplishment in an age when small arts organizations rise and fall with alarming regularity.

The Series’ current production focuses on what this organization does best: thematically driven cabaret performances of popular and semiclassical music from America and Europe as they existed between the two world wars of the 20th century. Vocalists Egheosa Igbinoba, Emily Levey, Joanne Schmoll, Richard Tappen and Brian Quenton Thorne — accompanied by the production’s music director, Frank Conlon, and his percussionist, Ivan Navas — energetically warble and hoof their way through about 30 popular songs and an occasional poetry or prose reading. Allison Stockman’s minimalist direction keeps the pace brisk but not hectic in the Source’s tiny performance space.

For fans of the 1920s and ‘30s, the program’s musical selections, with few exceptions, make up a hit parade highlighting the top music of the era. They’re the kind of toe-tapping, evocative tunes that oldies DJs routinely endorse as “gone from the charts but not from your hearts.” Songs range from the title tune, “Fascinating Rhythm” (and other Gershwin greats such as “Someone to Watch Over Me” and “I Got Rhythm”) to song-and-dance numbers such as the classic “Charleston,” “Tea for Two” and “Puttin’ on the Ritz”; to grittier songs, including Cole Porter’s “Love for Sale” and Yip Harburg and Jay Gorney’s signature Depression lament, “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime”; to novelty songs including “Good-bye, My Honey, I’m Gone,” “My Husband’s First Wife” and the Gus Kahn-Walter Donaldson classic “Makin’ Whoopee.”

Sunday’s presentation got off to an uncertain start, as the singers were a bit off pitch, perhaps because of inadequate warm-up time. But warm up they did en route, gradually melding with the infectious spirit of this irresistible music and making it their own. Particularly impressive were Miss Igbinoba’s rowdy rendition of Cab Calloway’s “Minnie the Moocher” and Mr. Thorne’s more passionate take on “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime” (which became a low-key Bing Crosby standard).

“Fascinating Rhythm” is great, economical fun, a delightful blast from a distant past when singable tunes were king and highly crafted lyrics truly embodied the spirit of the age.

..

WHAT: The In Series’ “Fascinating Rhythm: The Roaring 20’s” cabaret

WHERE: Source Theatre Company, 1835 14th St. NW

WHEN: Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 7 p.m.; May 24 at 7:30 p.m.; May 25 at 8 p.m.; and May 26 at 2:30 p.m. Through May 26.

TICKETS: $18 to $29

INFORMATION: Call 202/518-0152, or log onto www.inseries.org

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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