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
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
"Fifty Million Frenchmen" ("You’ve Got That Thing,"
and "You Do Something to Me"), "Panama Hattie"
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
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
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
(Gravitte) and her legion of Junior League debutantes. A squad of
stripe-suited parolees, led by Policy Pinkle (Adler), is also
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
Grace (Felicia Finley). Both Gruber and Finley create one of the
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
and brings a suave and classy tone to his two solos "You Do
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
Drive, Millburn, 973-376-4343. $29 to $59. Show runs to December 2.
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