Cy Coleman has always been a composer’s composer, which is to say that he has always been more well-known and respected by his colleagues and by singers than by the public. Despite the fact that he wrote many iconic hits over the years such as “The Best is Yet to Come, ” “Witchcraft,” the jazzy “Playboy After Dark” theme, “Hey Look Me Over,” “If My Friends Could See Me Know,” to name a few, his several Broadway shows included various lyricists and book writers over time and were therefore inconsistent. Coleman’s final Broadway show before his 2004 death was 1997’s “The Life,” a funky, blues-tinged take on the seediness of Times Square before it was cleaned up into an antiseptic tourist trap in the early 1990s, and contains his best-ever overall score, surpassing even 1966’s “Sweet Charity.” Kudos to Bohemian Theatre Ensemble for presenting a rare revival of this gem of a show, which despite its cutting-edge subject matter of whores, pimps, drug dealers, con artists, swindlers and murderers just trying to survive, is rather traditional in its structure. They don’t write shows like this anymore, and the score bursts with melody and witty lyrics in a through-composed, almost operatic style at times, cross-fertilizing a Gershwinesque and Bernstein-like sensibility with “Hair” and “Rent”-like energy so cleverly crafted as to almost glamorize its dark content. Director Stephen M. Genovese wisely puts the music first, which is in the good hands of Jon Steinhagen and is brought to life with Brenda Didier’s choreography and a particularly strong female cast. (Dennis Polkow)
“The Life” runs at Theatre Building Chicago, 1225 West Belmont, (773)327-5252, through July 15.