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This article by Joan Crespi was prepared for the May 28, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Drama review: `You Never Know’

You Never Know" is the delightful caper now running

at Hopewell’s Off-Broadstreet Theater through Saturday, June 28. Weightless

as wind, the play features music and lyrics by the American legend

Cole Porter.

The musical is based on the Austrian play, "By Candlelight,"

that had its debut in London in 1928 — light from candles in a

candelabra is the joke that frames Off-Broadstreet’s first act and

then the show. Co-producer Robert Thick directs (and commandingly

plays a cameo role as the curmudgeonly Herr Baltin); Tanya Boehme,

at the piano, is also musical director of the live band. Co-producer

Julia Thick has designed the snappy choreography which the cast executes

with precision and style.

In its "By Candlelight" incarnation (by Sigfried Geyer, Karl

Farkas, and Robert Katscher), this was first a romantic comedy about

a Hapsburg heir and a chambermaid, with a smattering of songs by Cole

Porter. Modified, its title changed, the songs all Porter’s, it’s

still a romantic comedy (with the accent on the comedy), but the story

tells of a baron, his butler Gaston, a high-society lady and her maid,

and more.

It’s fitting that this Viennese comedy "By Candlelight" played

first in London because the plot draws heavily on the class system.

Along with high social station goes wealth (and this gives a special

comic edge to the tip by-play — coin tossing between Gaston and

the baron.) Much of the play does depend upon the roles attendant

on high and low social class — table setting, ordering, and fetching

dinner. Much modified, the show became "You Never Know" in

1938, opening as a big, glamorous musical; scaled down, it opened

Off-Broadway in 1973.

In this Hopewell incarnation, the black and white set,

with grand piano and with tasteful Art Deco doors, sets the scene

for the late 1920s and early ’30s. The single set is the baron’s elegant

sitting room in his penthouse suite at the Ritz Hotel in Paris.

The action is set in motion by a couple of misdirected phone calls

and a disconnect. The baron instructs Gaston to call Ida, his mistress,

(well-played by Pamela Linkin), to cancel their date tonight. When,

after mistakes, he reaches the right number, he talks to the maid

— but doesn’t know that. Meanwhile, Ida doesn’t get the message

and shows up.

Finding herself unexpected and unwanted, she pronounces herself back

in circulation. (The Ida character disappears until the end when she

shows up with — someone else.) When Gaston calls the right room

number and leaves the message, the phone is hilariously disconnected

as he talks of love. A curious Maria, posing as a society lady, unexpectedly

shows up. Gaston, unaware, attempts to woo Maria (the slim, shapely

Marieke Georgiadis. She wears a draped gray dress of the ’30s, the

inspiration of costumer Arlene Kohler. Petite and pretty, Georgiadis

is lovely to watch, although her high-pitched singing voice is shrill

at times.) Needless to say, Maria takes Gaston for the baron.

At first the plot line seems to be the old time-tested switcheroo

(nicely used by Shakespeare), here about an engaging butler/servant,

Gaston, (played with comic expression by Brendan Scullin) who purposely

takes the role of his temporarily absent and older employer (played

with warmth, self-assurance, and humor by Bruce Clough).

Then the play surprises, going beyond the ho-hum switcheroo and the

butler-baron deception of Maria (which will turn out to be a mutual

deception). When the real baron returns, he immediately sees what’s

up. With great good humor, he decides to play along, assuming the

role of his butler. It’s a plot twist this reviewer hasn’t seen before.

The comedy compounds. Why does the baron play along? It’s more amusing

to be part of the game, he says. The evening becomes steady, unflagging

fun.

There’s comedy in Gaston firing the baron, the baron firing Gaston.

Meanwhile the real Gaston (posing as the baron) has fallen in love

with Maria, who thinks he is the baron, and he asks the real baron’s

advice in seduction. The real baron gives him instruction in seduction

lines. Then he instructs Maria, whose true identity has been revealed.

To both, the baron offers the same lines — which include "Not

before supper." This is about as naughty as the play gets.

Consider the acting difficulties: here’s an actor playing a butler

playing a baron, and an actor playing a baron playing a butler, and

a lady’s maid playing a society lady until she is discovered. All

three actors with double acting roles perform convincingly, which

adds to the fun. The biggest change is in Maria who, when discovered,

abandons her put-on airs and changes her voice and manner down from

the lofty to the common.

The songs here are not the ones that made Cole Porter famous in and

after his time (he died almost 40 years ago) — songs such as "Night

and Day," "Begin the Beguine," "I’ve Got You Under

My Skin," "I Get a Kick out of You." In today’s world

Porter is also remembered for his most successful and still popular

musical, the classic, "Kiss Me, Kate." Yet although "You

Never Know" may be one of his minor shows, its lyrics display

a characteristic cleverness, sophistication, style, and wit. And this

show has at least one memorable Cole Porter song to hum all the way

home, "At Long Last Love."

Is it an earthquake, or simply a shock?

Is it the good turtle soup or merely the mock?

Is it a cocktail, this feeling of joy?

Or is what I feel the real McCoy?

Is it for all time or simply a lark?

Is it Grenada I see or only Asbury Park?

Is it a fancy not worth thinking of?

Or is it at long last love?

— Joan Crespi

You Never Know, Off-Broadstreet Theater, 5 South

Greenwood Avenue, Hopewell, 609-466-2766. $22.50 & $24. Runs weekends

to Saturday, June 28.


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