Corrections or additions?

This review by Joan Crespi was prepared for the November 10,

2004

issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Drama Review: Cole Porter at Off Broadstreet

Cole Porter, the great American songwriter, would have appreciated the

title of the revue, "Hot ‘n Cole," now running at the Off-Broadstreet

Theater through Saturday, December 4. Porter was known for the wit,

sophistication, and cleverness of his lyrics. He also, in a turn away

from sentimentality, showed a cynicism about love even as he wrote one

of the most moving love songs in our lexicon.

To borrow from Porter’s "It’s De-Lovely," the show is de-lightful.

Porter led a high society, sophisticated, fashionable life. He lived

splendidly and when in Paris was one of the circle that included

Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, and Scott Fitzgerald.

Famous and idolized, he had a dozen Broadway musicals to his credit

when he suffered a crippling horseback riding accident. Even after the

10 operations that followed, he didn’t stop writing joyous songs.

First presented in Cincinnati in 1992, the show now filling

Off-Broadstreet with heavenly music reached its present form in

Saratoga, New York, in 1994. It was devised from Porter’s music, and

from lyrics by David Armstrong, Mark Waldrop, and Bruce W. Cole. Cole

did the musical arrangements. The songs were selected from among the

hundreds Porter wrote. The program lists 44 numbers, but some songs

are reprised, others spliced together, others interspliced with still

other songs. The lyrics are often excerpted from complete Porter

songs.

The Off-Broadstreet production is directed by Robert Thick. Ken Howard

is musical director. He and Tara Shingle Buzash accompany the singers

throughout. They have one solo keyboard number together.

How does one tamper with Cole Porter’s music? Here lines from songs

become the names of songs in the show. For example the songs "It’s

De-Lovely" comes from "Red, Hot and Blue," "In the Still of the Night"

from "Rosalie," "I Get a Kick Out of You" from "Anything Goes," "Too

Darn Hot" and "Another Openin,’ Another Show" from "Kiss Me Kate," "At

Long Last Love" from "You Never Know."

"Let’s Do It," the song that made Porter famous, is from "Paris,"

which was written in 1928. Porter’s wit is lighthearted, quick, and

joyful as in the song’s opening verse: "Birds do it, bees do it, Even

educated fleas do it, Let’s do it, let’s fall in love." His songs can

also be sad and slow, as is the prostitute’s song, "Love for Sale."

The show includes several of Porter’s familiar songs, but many of the

songs were unfamiliar to this reviewer and two friends, and there was

a surprise. We hadn’t known that "Don’t Fence Me In," (from "Hollywood

Canteen" 1944) was written by Porter.

Although Porter wrote these songs from 1928 to the mid-1950s, his

music and lyrics are not at all dated. ("I Hate Men" could be an irate

feminist’s manifesto.) Yes, we’ve moved from the smartness and

urbanity of Jazz Age of the ’20s to the present day post-rock Internet

Age, but human emotions haven’t changed. These songs speak to love and

hate, longing, bitterness, insouciance, sophistication.

Porter’s (prettied-up) life – he seemed to be constitutionally

unfaithful, a sybarite, and unapologetic about it – was the subject of

the recent film "De-Lovely." Will this make Porter’s music accessible,

not just to seniors, who heard the originals in their youth, but also

to Baby Boomers and Generation Xers? Cole Porter not only holds a

prominent place in American musical history, he’s become a classic,

part of the fabric of our lives, those of us who grew up in pre-rock,

rap, and hip-hop times when Porter’s melodious songs and witty lyrics

were old familiars.

One song, though, has survived the generations intact. It’s the

gut-wrenching "Night and Day."

This show is not your static revue. The company of six are all fine.

Sometimes they all appear together, sometimes in duets, as singles, or

as women alone (Heather Diaforli, Marieke Georgiadis, Peggy Waldron)

or men alone (Geoffrey Barber, Bill Bunting, Timothy E. Walton). Here

are six people who can act, sing, and dance (here’s some smart

stepping with attitude) all at once. They dance to chorus-line

choregraphy (by Julia Thick) as they sing Porter’s witty, clever fast

and jazzy lyrics, or they might move to slow and sorrowful lyrics.

As they sing, the six players act out the emotions in the songs,

moving around and over the four levels on stage or among the audience,

so that many of the songs become little playlets.

Some betray Porter’s humor. Walton amuses the audience with "Tale of

the Oyster" from "Fifty Million Frenchmen," and Bunting is fine as a

stylish, tuxedo-clad waiter/butler in an upper crust social milieu

bearing a note that "Miss Otis Regrets" she will be unable to lunch

today. (Why? She’s hanged).

Don’t overlook the education that’s evident in the lyrics. (Porter

went to Yale, then the Harvard School of Music.) In short succession

two lyrics mentioned Dorothy Parker, Tristan and Isolde, and Mona

Lisa.

Time and again Porter’s lyrics amuse: "He ate his wife and divorced

his lunch," and the rhymes themselves are delightful, as in "cozy

virtuosi." The songs are varied and the numbers move fluidly one after

the other. The show never lags. The costumes (by Patricia A. Hibbert)

change with the songs, from casual clothes (including some pant suits

for the women) to sweat suits and sneakers to tuxedoes to colorful

shirts and ties and dark trousers for the men and more stunning, long

gowns for the women. (One long, sleek, silver gown for Diaforli, who

is tall, is particularly memorable.) Meanwhile, you’re caught up in

the always new, brief drama of the characters.

The show is fun. If you and others are still wondering whether to come

out and see the revue, the word is "Let’s Do It."

– Joan Crespi

Hot ‘N Cole a revue featuring some 50 Cole Porter songs,

Off-Broadstreet Theater, 5 South Greenwood Avenue, Hopewell; through

December 4, on Fridays and Saturdays, at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2:30

p.m. Tickets: $23.75 and $25.75. Call 609-466-2766.


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