“A Marvelous Party, ” Northlight Theatre’s 90-minute song, dance and anecdotal tribute to Noël Coward’s fertile talents as a writer, composer and lyricist, could have been a welcome alternative to the blandly amiable holiday entertainments populating the boards this time of year. Unfortunately, bland and amiable, adjectives not typically associated with the infamous “doyen of the bitchy bon mot,” aptly describe this milquetoast musical revue comprised of twenty-seven Noël Coward songs and sprinkled with autobiographical tidbits, Cowardian gossip and historical context. According to director David Ira Goldstein, its aim is to “…give some idea of the breadth of Coward’s musical achievements.” And while the hand-picked songs, running the gamut from the hilarious (“Mad Dogs and Englishmen”) to the haunting (“There Are Bad Times Just Around the Corner”), to the frivolous (“Mrs. Worthington”) to the famous (“Mad About the Boy”), achieve this to some degree, the evening is disappointing because it settles for presenting a mostly safe, one-sided portrait of a complex artist. Although Coward never publicly declared his homosexuality, the acerbic witticisms and delicious double-entendres of his best prose and lyrics stem from a strong gay undercurrent, a camp quality that invariably fought against the conventional and predictable and that in this show is noticeably missing. Too little, too late, the last ten minutes give an inkling of this sensibility when an updated version of “Let’s Do It,” complete with raffish references to Harry Potter (who does it with his wand) and Roger Ebert (with his thumbs), rouses the entire house and finally provides a glimpse of the connoisseur of camp who had talent not only to amuse, but also to arouse. (Fabrizio O. Almeida)
North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 N. Skokie, Skokie, (847) 673-6300. Tue 7:30pm/Wed 1pm & 7:30pm/Thu 7:30pm/Fri 8pm/Sat 3pm & 8pm/Sun 2:30pm & 7pm. (No shows 12/24 & 1/3) $34-$56. Through Jan 8.