I’ll just come right out and say it: it’s hard to come up with new things to say about old revues of older songs.
There. Now, for the good news: This one isn’t so bad. It’s quite enjoyable, just as it should be.
That’s not giving “Cole,” the final production in Kaleidoscope Theatre’s 11th season, the credit its due. This is a charming production with easy talent and fine musicianship.
The material, of course, is to die for. Cole Porter matched wit with hook better than anyone; he was a better songwriter than friend Noel Coward, though his cleverness drinks from the same shaker.
Kaleidoscope’s staging comes at just the right time, when cool summer evenings toast Cole’s romantic and forlorn catalog with ease and comfort. These are the tunes you could skip home to, hang your hat onto, coo your partner to sleep to. The show is a typical revue, complete with threadbare plot line – though thankfully, this one is biographical – and enough charm and sass to play along. If you didn’t know how to pick an upright bass at the beginning of the evening, you just might walk out magically with the knack for it.
It’s still a canned piece of nostalgia, but it’s at least a great catalog.
Director Cindy Ripley and choreographer Jon Yepez keep things moving swiftly. The evening does not lag, even if the first act, covering much of Porter’s Yale days and travels to Paris, seem overstated. There are hits to get to, namely from Porter’s impressive Broadway catalog, and it does take a while to get to something recognizable, but that’s not entirely a bother as it is an itch.
Benny Green and Alan Strachan’s book is informative without being forceful, and entertaining without being saccharine; somewhere in between breathes a primordial respect for the source material.
And oh, the material. “Night and Day,” from the 1932 musical “Gay Divorce”; “In The Still of the Night,” from the 1937 film “Rosalie”; “What Is this Thing Called Love?” from the 1929 musical “Wake Up and Dream!”; “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” from the immensely popular 1948 Tony-winning “Kiss Me, Kate”; “I Get a Kick Out of You” and the titular song from 1934’s “Anything Goes” – it goes on and on, and on and on. There are a few dozen songs here, in one form or another, and while some may tickle your memory better than others, all offer a fascinating glimpse into the evolving creative voice.
Ripley’s cast is fairly adept at bringing these songs to life, if not often capable of channeling the style or panache of Porter’s particular voice. It’s an A for effort, though with a few notable exceptions, there’s a huge link missing between these honorable interpretations and a deeper-rooted reading. It takes a natural jazz vocalist to really hit the stride of Porter’s melodies, which may loop on end in your head with ease but are in fact trickier than that.
Music director Monica Stankewicz moves her hardworking cast along nicely, however, with an especially skilled three-piece pit. (She even takes the reins for one song in the second act – “Make It Another Old-Fashioned, Please,” from 1940’s “Panama Hattie” – a nice nod to the musicians who make half of this happen.) This is one fine band, serving wonderful music to this eager, if ill-fitted cast.
There’s plenty of great work here, though, to enjoy.
Sarah Blewett and Bobby Hall are standouts, each for their entertaining charm and astute theatricality. They both get that Porter was about an honest laugh, a stellar room, a swell date and a stiff drink – enjoyment over thought, whim over agenda. Hall, especially, carries a swagger that Porter (and certainly Coward) would swoon for, an effective lilt here, a sly wink there. It’s all about charm at this soiree, and Hall is a veteran host.
Blewett, too, is quick to make us laugh, smile, chortle and guffaw. Her “Be a Clown,” from the 1948 film, “The Pirate,” is a breathless romp fitting of the most antique of showstopper genres. Blewett’s voice also is a delight, however never more perfectly than when grouped with her female cast mates Beth Wharton and Meghan Attridge on a couple of boogie-woogie-era bugle-boy harmonies. “The Leader of a Big-Brass Band,” from 1943’s “Something For the Boys,” is a knockout performance.
Chris Riso and Nathan Miller capably round out the ensemble, which when firing on all cylinders, is a fun group. Attridge and Miller are keen comedians, too, each using their ability to time a dry mugshot or mopey clown face with precision.
In all, it’s a revue that’s hard to resist enjoying, given its easiness of pleasure. The difference here being material that’s so rich, so perfectly crafted, it’s simply night and day over most other standards.
Where: Kaleidoscope Theatre, Medaille College Theatre, 18 Agassiz Circle
When: Through June 28