Talent Overcomes Format For Enjoyable Porter Tribute

Superb Singing Lifts Colonial Players Production

March 27, 1992|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,Contributing writer

Cole Porter is one of America's truest originals. His sophisticated lyrics went hand in hand with prodigious melodic gifts, and his extraordinary anthology of hits attests to one of the most enduring marriages of tune and lyric the world has known.

Ultimately, "Red Hot and Cole," the musical revue in production at The Colonial Players of Annapolis, amounts to little more than an excuse to sing Cole Porter songs for a couple of hours. And just how much of an excuse anyone needs to do that, I'm not sure.

Genuine biographical insights into the man himself are few. Oftenthe listener is given only the merest snippets of Porter's greatest songs, which proves frustrating, as does the show's salon style, in which the onstage participants serenade each other in a relentlessly self-congratulatory manner that may not be to everyone's taste.

Though not "So In Love" with the vehicle, however, I can say that I did enjoy "Red Hot and Cole" very much, thanks to the 11 singers and superb accompanist who entertained their appreciative audience "In the Still of the Night" last Friday.

Clearly, this is not a cast with which "Anything Goes." Most of the songs are delivered with admirable style and energy.

Roger Compton establishes a delightful character as the songwriter. His ingratiating presence allows Porter to become an appreciative audience as his surrounding cast of cronies serenadeshim with an endless string of "his" hits. Compton, as always, sings exceptionally well and his "I'm a Gigolo" ("I get stocks and bonds from jaded blondes") and "True Love" duet with Mary Northam are two of the show's better moments.

Northam begins a bit haltingly as party-giver Elsa Maxwell, but hits stride beautifully as Ethel Merman, Hedda Hopper and other Porter pals later in the show.

Other highlights include Jill Compton as the wisecracking Dorothy Parker ("All I need is a little place to lay my hat . . . And a few friends.") and as the super-talented Porter collaborator, Bella Spewack.

Nori Morton is exceptionally glamorous as Porter's wife, Linda, and contributes an introspectively elegant "I Love Paris."

Will Sherman does a lovely "Miss Otis Regrets" and a funny, enthusiastic "Don't Fence Me In."Bob Brewer's "Let's Do It, Let's Fall in Love," is very stylish and Denise Bailey-Jackson adds a beautiful "Ca, C'est L'Amour." I also enjoyed Walt League and Christine Asero in their sassy "Paris Loves Lovers."

Chorally, the cast sounds terrific, very well drilled by Compton. And pianist Angela Linhardt is indeed the cast's Most Valuable Player. She plays with an unerring knowledge of style, sensing beautifully when to propel those unique Porter harmonies to center stage and when to scale them back to cocktail-lounge dimensions and allow thelyrics to stand their own. Bravo!

The revue needs to settle in more quickly. The first half of Act 1 sounds quite tentative in severalspots. "I'm Throwing a Ball Tonight," "At Long Last Love," and "I'm in Love Again" don't jell as they might. The "Anything Goes" medley is delivered far less crisply than is the "Kiss Me Kate" group in Act 2.

Another problem is that the light, flirty soprano voices that dominate the female cast don't always sound fully at home in this music. Cole Porter's sophisticated patter and sustained, gutsy melodies demand some vocal heft and maturity that a few of these women, howevertalented, just don't have.

These caveats notwithstanding, it's "Another Op'Nin, Another Show" over at Colonial Players and, "All Through the Night," audiences will probably decide that, in the end, theirhearts belong to Cole.

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