The 36th Musicals in Mufti series at York Theatre offers three, count’m, three Cole Porter musicals you may never otherwise see.
Fifty Million Frenchmen opened on Broadway November 27, 1929, had a cast of 100, and ran 254 performances despite mixed reviews and the terrible economy. (200 was considered swell.) Sets required seven train cars to transport them from New York to try-out in Boston. Tickets cost a whopping $4.50. It was, scholar/author Robert Kimball tells us, a critical show in Porter’s development. Public response gave him confidence. Output that followed contained much of his most lasting material.
This is the first outing of Tommy Krasker and Evans Haile’s reconstruction of the show since 1991. “Our goal was to make it so people could afford to do it again reducing the script and cast to its essence,” Haile comments in the talkback. In fact, the piece is jaunty, tight, and elicits admiration from Kimball, additionally Artistic Advisor to the Porter estate.
The iconic songwriter’s take of Americans in Paris endlessly searching for racy environs and “bad” men/women, his intimate knowledge and skewering of upper class attitudes, are unmistakable.
Ivy-Leaguers Michael (David Michael Bevis –overtly self-conscious), Billy (Cole Burden), and Peter (Andy Kelso – credibly sincere) have sailed to Paris on a lark. During the voyage Peter fell in love-from-a-distance with Looloo Carroll (Evy Ortiz – fine ingenue, lovely voice). The young men, having spent much of their first day looking for her, retire to the bar at Claridge’s Hotel only to see Looloo across the room. She’s sitting with parents Gladys (Karen Murphy – reliably good) and Emmitt (Ray DeMantis – well cast), and her friend Joyce (Madeline Trumble). Michael knows Joyce and sets out to pursue her.
Billy ribs Peter about his lack of success with women and meanly suggests that anyone who did respond would only be after his fortune. “Money wouldn’t make any difference to this girl!” Peter protests. They make a bet: Billy will take all Peter’s money and travelers checks for a month while he pursues Looloo. If he can support himself, woo and get engaged to her within that time, $50,000 will change hands. According to the net, in today’s money that would be $734,230.51! Quite a wager.
Meanwhile, something of a womanizer, Billy begins to squire around Looloo himself. As Peter can’t take her anywhere she wants to go and she knows he’s rich, this puts him at acute disadvantage. Not – of course – because she holds lack of funds against him, but rather because she assumes her suitor is cheap. Provoked by Billy, harried hotel manager Louis Pernasse (Wade McCollum) cancels Peter’s hotel credit. Without knowledge of the city, he gets a job as a tour guide.
Tangential entertainment is provided by Violet Hildegarde (Kristy Cates – aptly brash characterization, good singer), the proverbial woman looking for lascivious trouble, and initially out of work vocalist May de Vere (Ashley Blanchet – excellent actress/singer) who performs in a show within the show.
Everything turns on the tearing up of racing tickets, but naturally ends well at the very last minute. The musical has a simple plot, but because of its brightness and songs, remains an enjoyable bauble.
Direction by Hans Friedrichs works nicely except that half the young singers can barely be heard. Voices are fine, but it’s a strain to catch all of Porter’s clever lyrics. Likely accustomed to wearing mikes, performers sing at a street level only properly carried by amplification. (If I had trouble, I can only imagine how frustrating this was for the older portion of the audience.)
Also featuring Sam Balzac as the waiter and all his look-alike cousins.
Choreography by Trent Kidd is utterly charming.
Musical Arrangements by Evans Haile are period perfect.
* The title is a reference to the hit 1927 song, Fifty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong, which compared free attitudes in 1920’s Paris with censorship and prohibition in the United States
When Cole Porter died in 1964, Kimball relates, his estate was left to cousins and a friend. One of the former asked, “Do you think we’ll be able to buy a new car?” The estate earned seventy million dollars this year.
Photos by Ben Strothmann
Opening: Back row-Kristy Cates (Violet Hildegarde), Cole Burden (Billy Baxter), Ashley Blanchet (May De Vere), Wade McCollum (Louis Pernasse), Ray DeMattis (Emmitt Carroll), Karen Murphy (Gladys Carroll), Madeline Trumble (Joyce Wheeler), David Michael Bevis (Michael Cummins) Front- Andy Kelso (Peter Forbes) and Evy Ortiz (Looloo Carroll)
York Theatre Company’s Musicals in Mufti presents
Fifty Million Frenchmen
Music/Lyrics- Cole Porter; Book-Herbert Fields
Adaptation for the Cole Porter Centennial in 1991 by
Tommy Krasker and Evans Haile
Music Direction/Piano-Evans Haile
Piano-David Hancock Turner; Banjo-Dan Erben
Directed by Hans Friedrichs
Through October 6, 2019
619 Lexington Avenue-enter on 54th Street
NEXT: The Decline and Fall of the Entire World As Seen Through the Eyes of Cole Porter – October 12-20
Panama Hattie – October 26- November 3