REVIEWS: Gay Divorce

Gay Divorce
Off-Off Broadway
Reviewed by Seth Bisen-Hersh

Gay Divorce opened originally in November of 1932. Over 70 years later it was presented with some added material by a talented cast, in a charming production of an overly dated musical, which would otherwise never have gotten a revival if not for Musicals Tonight!.

The story follows Mimi Pratt (Stephanie Lynge)'s attempt to get a divorce. She has fallen in love with an American romance writer, Guy Holden (Paul Castree), and the only way she thinks she can get out of her loveless marriage is by staging an affair with a professional co-respondent (Jedidiah Cohen). Guy's best friend, Egbert (Tom Sellwood), just happens to be the lawyer Mimi hires to set up the affair. Thus, Guy follows him to the seaside hotel, and when he runs into Mimi, conflicts arise as Mimi tries to hide the fact that she is married and is about to stage an affair.

The show does not seem to have many songs -- and some are sadly short. They are the highlight because Cole Porter's wit is timeless -- who else could rhyme asininity with virginity? The best-known song is "Night and Day," which lingered in the head for hours after the show. The book has funny moments and some clever puns, but is incredibly long-winded for a show with such a banal plot.

The cast was outstanding, as always with Musicals Tonight! productions. The leads fared well, but the supporting cast stood out the most. Jedidiah Cohen was hilarious as the Italian co-respondent, Tonetti. He made the most of his two songs -- he garnered laughs, while having a beautiful, rich tenor. Cathy Newman also stood out as Hortense, Mimi's skeptical friend. She performed her numbers with charisma and vigor.

Thomas Mills's direction and choreography were on the money, as usual. There were some truly lovely moments created by his innovative binder use (the actors carried binders so they didn't have to memorize their lines). The show's pacing and energy were right-on. Finally, Barbara Anselmi's musical direction and vocal arrangements were luscious -- the harmonies at the finale are written especially well.

Overall, The Gay Divorce was an enjoyable romp to the past. Few things can compare to a Cole Porter score.

Gay Divorce Review March 12th, 2004
Reviewed by Stan Richardson

Gay Divorce is appropriate for all ages, but will probably only appeal to you if you are a scholar of the American Musical Theatre or are old enough to have seen its Broadway premiere in 1932. Musicals Tonight!, a concert-style reading series, begins the evening by asking why this musical, which originally ran 248 performances, has been forgotten, and within the first ten minutes, answers its own question.

Presenting Gay Divorce, which has a score by Cole Porter and a book by Dwight Taylor, to a contemporary audience is a formidable challenge; it is rife with permutations of the same banal observation: “Love stinks, but we all want it.” Love, in this case, is marriage, and we get to watch these good-natured men and women duke out their differences in one huffy little confrontation after another.

The premise for this dialogue involves a lovesick American novelist in London who is dragged by his attorney-friend to a seaside resort that is a haven for adulterers and other hedonists. The attorney’s mission: his client must be “caught in the act,” cuckolding her husband so he will grant her a divorce. But things go innocently awry when the novelist bumps into the object of his infatuation, who is (unbeknownst to him) the divorcée, complicating her already skittish commitment to this madcap plan.

Thomas Mills has directed (and choreographed) his actors in what I guess is “period style”: chirping, swooning, trembling, wise-cracking. But their performances are not agile or developed enough (this is, after all, a staged reading) to pull off convincingly stylized depictions. The one distinguished (indeed, terrific) performance is that of Jedidiah Cohen as Tonetti, the earnest Italian co-respondent-for-hire, who has, among numerous charming moments, a song entitled "I Love Only You," wherein he says goodnight to his wife before settling in for a chaste-scandalous sleepover with the divorcée.

Porter’s score save for "Night and Day" and "I Love Only You" is forgotten for a reason: it is dull, glib, and antiquated. Taylor’s book was once snappy, but now is, for the most part, appreciable only if you have the footnotes. And with added songs (including two real snores -- "A Weekend Affair" and "Olga" -- which were cut from the original and added from another score, respectively), this production unjustifiably clocks in at two and half hours. Still, while Musicals Tonight! may not have (or perhaps could not have) made Gay Divorce relevant, it still gives us a rare opportunity: for some, a walk down memory lane; for others, an alternative to the bureaucracy of the Avery Fisher library.

Gay Divorce in Concert
Back Stage April 9th, 2004
Reviewed by Victor Gluck

Cole Porter’s Gay Divorce was written for Fred Astaire prior to Porter’s more brassy scores for Ethel Merman. Musicals Tonight! cleverly kept this chamber-music feeling in its concert staging directed by Thomas Mills and with the light touch of Barbara Anselmi’s musical direction. This revival also included the patter song “A Weekend Affair” and the ballad “I Love Only You,” both cut from the original production. The unfamiliar songs proved to be lovely, if not top-drawer Porter.

Best known for “Night and Day,” Gay Divorce, with a book by Dwight Taylor, is really a drawing room comedy with songs. The plot is basically farce: A writer falls instantly in love with a society woman and follows her to a seaside resort, where he is mistaken for her hired correspondent in her divorce proceedings. The humor is rather unsophisticated and needed to be played faster than Mills’ direction, but he did a fine job with the characterizations and the diction.

The casting was extremely felicitous for an English comedy of manners in the style of Astaire-Rogers musicals. Tom Sellwood as the hero’s friend Teddy Egbert was a brilliant meeting of actor and role: the handsome, self-assured dope who plows ahead without any idea how much chaos he is causing. Paul Castree as writer Guy Holden and Stephanie Lynge as the soon-to-be-divorced Mimi Pratt were charming: he with that ethereal airiness of Astaire and she with the elegance of a titled lady hosting a tea.

Disguised by a voluptuous mustache, Jedidiah Cohen was hilarious as the professional correspondent who is required to say the line later made famous in the film version: “Your wife is safe with Tonetti. He prefers spaghetti.” In the Eve Arden role, Cathy Newman made the most of her zingers as Hortense, Mimi’s best friend.

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