In the year since Kevin Cole first presented his Gershwin Solo at the Ivanhoe Theater, his singing has gained noticeably in resonance and expressiveness, thanks in part to lessons from veteran songwriter (and sometime coach to Judy Garland) Hugh Martin. Still, Cole’s ace in the hole is his ebullient, dynamic piano playing, which combines brilliant technique, playful wit, and lush but never overstated lyricism. Running in rep with a reprise of Gershwin Solo, his new show, Celebration, is perfect entertainment for this nostalgic season–an alternately sparkling and wistful set of tunes by some of American popular music’s greatest composers. The eclectic program’s least effective selections are its most recent: Cole’s creamy version of “This Guy’s in Love With You” lacks the tension essential to Burt Bacharach’s style, and schlock like “Wind Beneath My Wings” reflects an odd lapse of taste. But Cole’s renditions of material from the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s are matchless: a clever “holiday collage” that runs from “Happy Birthday to You” to “My Funny Valentine” to “Easter Parade” to “My Heart Belongs to Daddy” to “White Christmas” to “Auld Lang Syne,” exquisitely reflective readings of Jerome Kern’s “All the Things You Are” and Kurt Weill’s “September Song,” a sassy pairing of Cole Porter’s “Friendship” and Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim’s “Together Wherever We Go,” a rollicking rarity by Burton Lane and Alan Jay Lerner called “How Could You Believe Me When I Said I Love You When You Know I’ve Been a Liar All My Life,” and an Irving Berlin medley in which Cole plays like Fred Astaire dances. And, not surprisingly, there’s also a Gershwin medley that shows off Cole’s deep affinity for the composer’s jaunty, crisply rhythmic style. Fridays, 8 PM, and Saturdays and Sundays, 5 PM, through December 31, with additional shows December 22 and 23 at 8 PM and January 1 at 5 and 9 PM. Ivanhoe Theater, 750 W. Wellington; 773-975-7171. ALBERT WILLIAMS
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Karen Peters.