Unlike most of his iconic peers, Cole Albert Porter was neither Jewish nor of immigrant heritage. Born to an extremely wealthy Indiana family and raised among the privileged class about which he’d eventually write with rapier wit and veracity, Porter defied his family’s wishes to become a songwriter.
Host David Loud condenses his subject’s history into a three minute preface, from unpopular first effort, See America First, through marriage to older socialite Linda Lee Thomas “…Man with One Million Marries Woman with Two” read the headlines-a love match despite opposite sexual orientation, success, failure, and the crippling, riding accident that would eventually drain him of the will to keep writing. Narrative is parsed between verses of “You’re the Top” (Anything Goes) giving neither the clever lyric nor background story opportunity to land well. (This also occurs with verses of the title song of that show. Further biographical details do emerge later.)
Allison Blackwell, Lewis Ceale
A music director/arranger, Loud knows his stuff where song construction and lyrics are concerned. While pointing out adroit rhymes, high/low allusions (You’re a Bendel bonnet/A Shakespeare’s sonnet/You’re Mickey Mouse), lack of AABA structure “Richard Rodgers would set himself on fire before doing this,” word emphasis, and octave changes is interesting, the amount of time taken up with this academic approach deprives us of entertainment. Does the lay audience need to recognize a major 7th chord? It also means many numbers are aired as brief excerpts, used merely as examples of analyzed points.
On the plus side, the commentator has a fine, dry sense of humor, cites well chosen quotes, playfully brings out Porter’s facility with unabashedly sexual lyrics, and approaches the songwriter’s relationships and tragedy with respectful gravitas.
Five able vocalists offer examples of the writer’s remarkable oeuvre to varying success. Lewis Ceale employs his resonant voice a bit too robustly during “It’s De-Lovely.” “Begin the Beguine” (Jubilee) and “All of You” (Silk Stockings) however, arrive romantically low key, the former unexpectedly ending in high tenor.
Matthew Scott, Nikki Renee Daniels
Allison Blackwell’s “Night and Day” (Gay Divorce) swells so quickly in volume, it diminishes emotional effect. “Find Me a Primitive Man” (Fifty Million Frenchmen) lacks sexual innuendo. “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” (Seven Lively Arts) is prettily, tunefully sighed by Nikki Renee Daniels.
Well performed numbers by Matthew Scott include a lovely, heartfelt, “In the Still of the Night” (Rosalie) with light piano and lighter triangle and a particularly rueful “Just One of Those Things.” (Jubilee)
The ever welcome, here under-utilized Rebecca Luker delivers entirely believable renditions of a wrought “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” (Born To Dance) and infectiously swept up “So in Love.” (Kiss Me Kate.) “The Tale of The Oyster” (Fifty Million Frenchmen), sung in that beautiful soprano, gives its tongue-in-cheek satire just the right tone of sophistication and sarcasm.
At one point, we hear a recording of Ethel Merman, a pleasing addition.
All the vocalists have solid instruments and ample credits. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, one might conjecture heavy handed direction by Noah Racey. Additionally, some song interpretations are decidedly odd: After two lines of “Love For Sale” (The New Yorkers) whose sentiments belong to an exhausted, hardened purveyor of sex, a vocalist breaks into “I’m a Gigolo” (Wake Up and Dream) as if a college ingénue proud and excited by the new job.
In another instance, several lines from “Why Can’t You Behave?”, a song fed-up Bianca sings to her philandering husband in Kiss Me Kate, is followed (same singer) with “I’m Always True to You (in My Fashion)” (Kiss Me Kate.) During both, a pregnant vocalist pats her belly addressing her unborn child. Explain this to me.
“Let’s Misbehave” (cut from Paris) is presented with men (one drunk) pawing the women which changes intended lyrical flirt to unpleasant aggression. In response, the women’s “Let’s Not Talk About Love” (Let’s Face It!) is then reduced to disgust not frustrated bemusement. Staging a vivacious “Can Can” (Can Can) in which the company executes choreography from stools in deference to pregnant Nikki Renee Daniels, is very cute.
The finale, “I Happen To Like New York” (The New Yorkers) sung with appealing enthusiasm by Cleale, is an awkward musical choice for audience participation. Few join projected lyrics.
Tonight’s Orchestra: Robert Zubrycki, Sarah Seiver, Dave Noland, Mary Ann McSweeney, and Joe Nero; Paul Masse- Conductor/Piano- are top notch throughout.
Projections of cliché, clip-art images are unstylish and unfortunate. Where are the wonderful archival photographs to which we’re accustomed?
The great Irving Berlin once wrote to Cole Porter “Anything I can do, you can do better,” (a statement opposite to the lyric in his song for Annie Get Your Gun.) Based on surprising audience reaction, many remain unfamiliar with the Porter. I suggest those of you who fit this bill, immediately tap into YouTube and have a good time.
Photos by Richard Termine
Opening: Matthew Scott, Rebecca Luker, Nikki Renee Daniels, Allison Blackwell, Lewis Ceale
Lyrics & Lyricists presents
Let’s Misbehave: The Sensational Songs of Cole Porter
David Loud-Artistic Director/Writer/Host
92nd Street Y
92nd Street & Lexington Ave.
February 11, 2017
NEXT: Baby, Dream Your Dream: Dorothy Fields and the Women of the American Songbook – March 18-20