De-Lovely Cole Porter at The America Repertory Theatre (A.R.T.) in Cambridge, Massachusetts

Melodious Revue of American Master's Elegant Songs

By: - Jul 07, 2008

Cole Porter

When It's Hot, It's Cole, A Cole Porter Cabaret

Performed by Will LeBow, Thomas Derrah, Karen MacDonald, Remo Airaldi and Angela Nahigan with piano performed by Miranda Loud.

Words and music by Cole Porter, conceived by Scott Zigler and Peter Bayne, directed by Scott Zigler, musical arrangements by Peter Bayne, musical direction by Miranda Loud, costume design by Hilary Hacker, lighting design by Margo Caddell, sound design by David Remedios.

Performances from June 26, 2008 through July 27, 2008
The American Repertory Theatre
Zero Arrow Street
Cambridge, MA 02138 

Running time is about two hours with intermission.

Now something of an American Repertory Theatre (A.R.T.) tradition, each summer, there is a wonderful cabaret show at Zero Arrow Street. Last year, it was A Marvelous Party! with quirky, catchy songs by Noel Coward. This year, it is When It's Hot, It's Cole! with elegant mid-century seemingly modern classic tunes by Cole Porter. I feel that the elegant Porter music is better.

Cole Porter was the parallel musical poet to British Noel Coward's master of lyrical cadences. Where Coward was English working class morphing into middle class, Porter was an upper class American setting out the living and loving standards for an aspiring American public. A difference is that Coward comes out of the English music hall and colonial "Pukka" forms with a little of Gilbert and Sullivan thrown in while Porter comes out of the American musical theatre and nightclub traditions.

Porter was born in 1891 to a wealthy family in Peru, Indiana. At an early age, he showed exceptional talent in music and studied music and composed songs as a teenager. After graduating from Yale, he attended Harvard Law School, but decided to follow his musical muse. While at Harvard, he continued to write, and a number of his pieces were used in shows on Broadway. In 1916, his first full show was "See America First." However, it closed after only 15 performances. Luckily, he kept on trying.

After serving in the French Army during WWI with distinction, he married Linda Lee Thomas, a wealthy older socialite and settled in Paris to a lavish lifestyle. His affinity for the City of Lights resulted in many songs with a Paris theme including "I Love Paris" and "You Don't Know Paris." His first hit was in 1928 with "Let's Do It, Let's Fall in Love" in the show "Paris." 

A contemporary of George Gershwin, Jerome Kern and Richard Rogers, Porter had an urbane wit and musical sophistication that resulted in hundreds of songs for musicals, movies and television specials. His work was/is admired, hummed and song by Americans from all kinds of backgrounds. More than several of his pieces are classics including "You're the Top," "What is This Thing Called Love?", "I Get A Kick Out of You" and "Too Darn Hot."

After a crippling horseback riding accident in 1937, most of his best work was produced in the 40's and 50's. Opening in 1948, "Kiss Me Kate" was his most successful musical. He died in California in 1964 as a recluse. Today, his wonderful musical legacy can be found in classic recordings by Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Lena Horne and excellent shows like the one currently at the American Repertory Theatre.

This A.R.T. Cole Porter show features the multitalented ensemble that appear in many of the theatre's most memorable productions: Karen MacDonald, Will LeBow, Thomas Derrah, and Remi Airaldi. A.R.T. Institute recent graduate Angela Nahigan added a youthful energy and radiance to the ensemble. This was a melodious set of performances and a simply elegant production. 

Unlike last year's more cutely expressed Noel Coward production, this show is elegant and highly sophisticated. The music is not as quirky or as campy as Coward's. It is highly developed, graceful and like Coward's work, very clever. The elegant poetry is fluid as were the performances and intertwining of the ensemble. Unlike the Noel Coward show last year, there is no narrative, just songs, but what songs!

Karen MacDonald's range is broad and nuanced. Her upbeat "Night and Day" was exquisite as was the melancholy "Miss Otis Regrets." MacDonald's "I Get A Kick Out of You" was just right. As Porter would have said, she is simply "The Top." Will LeBow just seemed to find his inner self in the Porter genre. LeBow's performance was just elegant. You could also feel his pleasure in the pieces that he performed. His piano work and singing "All of You" were truly a highlight in a firmament of many wonderful performances.

Thomas Derrah developed a stylistic rhythm in "Begin the Beguine" that carried over to his duet with MacDonald in "From This Moment On" and his edgy rendition of "It's All Right With Me." Usually jester-like or even clownish in many previous shows, Remi Airaldi played it rather straight and quite well this time performing love songs—"So In Love," "Do I Love You?", and "I Am In Love," in a very direct even at times poignant way. However, he did express his usual impishness in a rendition of "Tale of An Oyster" about an upwardly mobile bivalve. 

Newcomer Angela Nahigan added a 40's glamour to the production. Her performances of "Love for Sale" and with MacDonald in "Just One of Those Things" were energetic and lovely. She added a bit of salsa to the ensemble salad. The entire group kept the audience smiling, toe-tapping and head-shaking.

There is no debate that Cole Porter's music is absolutely "The Top." This production is an evening of listening pleasure. It was a great summer's night entertainment. Cole Porter was an American musical master. The lingering and amazingly contemporary beauty of the lyrics and the elegance of the melodies should be shared by everyone. The A.R.T. has done a masterful job of bringing his work to life. As Porter himself would have done when pleased, let's lift a glass to Cole and the A.R.T.