Corrections or additions?

This review by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the

November 14, 2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Review: `Red, Hot and Blue’

Except for "Kiss Me Kate," and "Anything

Goes," there are precious few vintage Cole Porter musicals that

are genuinely worthy of a fully-produced revival. Concert stagings

are generally the way to go. When an old chestnut like the 1936

"Red

Hot and Blue" turns up, in all its broad and bawdy glory, you

can be sure it isn’t the timeliness or timelessness of the book that

will be of interest. What is of interest is that the "New"

(inserted into the original title) informs you that you its director

and adapter Michael Leeds is offering you a "De-Lovely" time

at this expenses-be-damned production. That the original and loony

book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse has only been tampered with

tenderness adds to the fun. However, a Porter show is really about

its score and its interpreters and this one is a doozy and a half.

Purists may argue that half the songs have been lifted from other

Porter shows — "Dubarry Was a Lady" ("It Ain’t

Etiquette"),

"Fifty Million Frenchmen" ("You’ve Got That Thing,"

and "You Do Something to Me"), "Panama Hattie"

("I’m

Throwing a Ball Tonight") "Jubilee" ("Just One of

Those Things") "Leave It to Me" ("Most Gentlemen Don’t

Like Love") "O Mistress Mine" ("Goodbye, Little Dream,

Goodbye") and the film "Born to Dance" ("I’ve Got

You Under My Skin"). But, frankly, who is going to complain about

picking from the entire Porter canon to fill in a lean moment. Don’t

get me wrong. There aren’t that many lean ones to worry about, and

they’re all propelled by jokes. Since most of us were not around when

the legendary Ethel Merman, Jimmy Durante, and Bob Hope starred in

the original production, the current company is hereby pronounced

capable of casting its own lustrous glow on the show.

This production (with some cast changes) that originated at the

Goodspeed

Opera House one year ago, boasts top-drawer talent. Debbie Gravitte,

Bruce Adler, and Jim Walton are terrific in the roles played by the

aforementioned. Although "Red Hot and Blue" never took a place

among the pantheon of great Porter shows (it ran less than six

months),

you would never believe it in the light of Leeds’ "new" and

snappy comedy-driven direction.

The nonsensical plot, about a lawyer Bob Hale (Walton) on a quest

to find the woman he was betrothed to when he was a baby, has to be

one of the dopiest on record. Bob’s only clue about her is that she

has a permanent imprint on her derriere from sitting on a waffle iron

when she was a baby. The quest becomes a money-raising nation-wide

contest sponsored by ex-moll turned wealthy widow Nails O’Reilly

Duquesne

(Gravitte) and her legion of Junior League debutantes. A squad of

stripe-suited parolees, led by Policy Pinkle (Adler), is also

recruited

to find the marked woman. (Without being too dismissive about the

plot, it should be remembered that high society showed a fascination

for the criminal element in 1936).

Also working their way through a bombardment of hoary jokes and dippy

doings is a blonde floozy Peaches (Stephanie Kurtzuba) who has lots

that she likes to show and a group of scheming senators with lots

that they want to hide. And let’s not leave out the romantic subplot

between ex-pick-pocket Fingers (Michael Gruber) and de-lovely

debutante

Grace (Felicia Finley). Both Gruber and Finley create one of the

show’s

memorable moments singing and dancing the artfully staged "I’ve

Got You Under My Skin." Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreographer for

that number, as well as the dances (behind and in front of prison

bars) for the convicts, and for the bigger ensemble numbers are not

only joyously but ingeniously integrated into the antics.

If costumer Ann Hould-Ward can be congratulated for the witty costumes

she has created for the supporting company, she should, however, be

horse-whipped for the hideous and unflattering trail of ill-fitting

pink, red, and orange costumes she has given carrot-top Gravitte to

wear. Gravitte, however, transcends the clownish apparel with her

presence. She delivers such rafter-shaking numbers as "Ridin’

High," and the title song, with brassy and bravura assurance.

Suavely commemorating the lost art of romantic elan, Walton is

top-notch

and brings a suave and classy tone to his two solos "You Do

Something

to Me" and "Just One of Those Things."

Top banana Adler stops the show in a scene that has him play both

a prosecutor and a defendant on trial at the same time. If everyone

appears to shine within the bright and flashy settings by Kenneth

Foy, it is because Leeds has made sure that everything is, indeed

(except for the orange), "Red, Hot and Blue."

— Simon Saltzman

The New Red Hot and Blue , Paper Mill Playhouse, Brookside

Drive, Millburn, 973-376-4343. $29 to $59. Show runs to December 2.


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