La Vie Ennui, at the Theatre Building Chicago. There’s no ennui in this perfectly packaged, memorably melodic, richly polished musical gem, a bighearted salute to French cabaret and the chanteuses who break our hearts. Created by Chicago showman Gregg Opelka and superbly staged by Suzanne Avery Thompson, this 90-minute confection takes place in 1950 at Chez Leplee, a dingy off-off-Montmartre club where overworked singers re-create Edith Piaf classics for patrons who can’t afford the Odeon. When the owner is waylaid by the cops, former classical actress Fatiguee–worldly-wise and unlucky in love–and Dominique, a man-chasing ex-dancer, get to perform their own material, accompanied by sodden pianist Jean-Paul-Pierre (Opelka), who sulks under his beret.
The songs showcase the talents of coquettish Sheila Myrcik and rubber-faced, leather-lunged Karol Kent as well as Opelka’s skill at churning out four-star tunes and wicked lyrics. The title number is an infectious waltz while “Sad Songs” mocks the mystique of suffering for art and the infectious “You’ve Got to Be a Waif” spoofs poverty chic. The Weill-like “Why Say Au Revoir?” is a boulevard ballad to melt an ice cap. Kent tears into her novelty number about justifiable homicide and croons a bizarre torch song that involves escaping to New Jersey while Myrcik teases and pleases with “Toujours, but Not Today.” There’s instant allure in the delicate duet “Living in the Cinema” and unexpected heartbreak in the rousing anthem “The Boys of Days Gone By.” This charmer deserves every showbiz break.