Cole Porter, without the sophistication

May 10, 1994|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Sun Theater Critic

Cole Porter may have written "Can-Can," but the revue of his songs at Olney Theatre is more like "Can't-Can't."

The fault isn't in the songs. It's in the way they've been interpreted by the show's creators -- director and choreographer David Holdgrive, musical director and arranger Bruce W. Coyle and actor Mark Waldrop.

The quality most often associated with Cole Porter's music is sophistication. "Hot 'n' Cole" doesn't merely lack sophistication, after intermission it's downright tasteless.

The downward slide begins during Connie Ogden's rendition of "My Heart Belongs to Daddy," which she sings in response to Doug Tompos' "You Do Something to Me." Not content to leave that "something" -- make that "anything" -- to the imagination, Ogden rubs up against Tompos, after which he covers his crotch with his hands.

Later, while the four other cast members sing "Night and Day," Ogden and Tompos engage in a mating dance, using a bedsheet as a prop. He's wearing pajama bottoms; she's wearing a slip. Their street clothes were shed during an earlier heated moment, when she pulled a condom out of her bra.

I don't mean to sound like a prude, but when Cole Porter wrote "Anything Goes," he undoubtedly intended it as a witty social commentary, not a how-to manual.

Assuming you can overlook this -- which I couldn't -- the revue might conceivably be redeemed by the singing. In this case, however, the vocal performances are variable, and on opening night, the harmonies were frequently off. Because of this, the solos fare better.

Despite his role in devising this ill-conceived production, Waldrop is its most assured, stylish vocalist. His strong but low-key delivery enhances the comic irony of "Miss Otis Regrets" as well as the lilting sadness of "Broth of a Boy."

William Selby brings a light, humorous touch to the ballad of a bivalve, "Tale of the Oyster." And, when Deb G. Girdler lets loose with an Ethel Merman-esque "I'm Throwing a Ball Tonight," the show gains much-needed period pizazz.

Holdgrive's heavy-handed staging upstages most of the music, however. When he isn't borrowing ideas from the Victoria's Secret catalog, he's either positioning his actors in exaggerated poses or detracting from Porter's songs with references to other composers' shows, such as "A Chorus Line" or "West Side Story." (The choreography in "Too Darn Hot" looked so much like "Cool" that I kept expecting to see the Sharks and the Jets.)

After so many tasteless, or at least misguided, visual signals, it's little wonder that Coyle and Jim Rice's second-act piano duet is the show's worthiest salute to Porter.

Even designer James Leonard Joy's turquoise and fuchsia set looks more like a second-rate resort hotel than the Ritz or Taj Mahal. As to costume designer Lynda L. Salsbury, she overlooked the fact that during the "Can-Can" finale, the black microphone battery pack strapped to Ann Brown's thigh stands out like, well, let's try not to slip to "Hot 'n' Cole's" graphic level. Suffice it to say, in Porter's own words, "Did You Evah"!


Where: Olney Theatre, 2001 Route 108, Olney

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, 7:30 p.m. Sundays; with matinees 2:30 p.m. Sundays and May 14, and 2 p.m. May 19. Through May 29

Tickets: $22-$27

Call: (410) 924-3400

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