Theatre Scene.net April 20, 2008
Reviewed by Victor Gluck
When Cole Porter’s second book musical, Paris, opened in 1928, the producers did not know that they were on to a good thing, and cut seven of Porter’s ten numbers. The score was filled out with two songs by one of the producers and two by other songwriters. In reviving this rarely seen show, Musicals Tonight! has restored all of Porter’s original songs, eliminated the additions by others, and added songs from two never revived Porter revues of the same period, La Revue des Ambassadeurs, 1928, and Wake Up and Dream, 1929. The result is, in effect, the world premiere of a new Cole Porter score.
Not so incidentally, Paris is the show that first presented the now classic Porter patter song, Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall in Love. Paris is rather typical of early musical comedies of its period, with one set, a story told in three acts, and songs neatly divided between Broadway ballads and syncopated patter songs. The book by Martin Brown is one of those now familiar stories of the effect of wicked Paris on innocent Americans. Andrew Sabot (played by Kevin Kraft), from a Massachusetts Mayflower family, has become engaged to vivacious French operetta star Vivienne Rolland (Jennifer Evans). However, she has refused to marry him without his mother’s approval. Without her knowing it, her English co-star, Guy Pennel (David Edwards), had loved her silently ever since they have been working together, from London to Paris.
Enter the very disapproving, teetotaler Mrs. Cora Sabot (Mary VanArsdel), with younger companion Brenda (Robyne Parrish), both from puritanical Newton Center. When Mrs. Sabot has a fainting spell after the rough sea voyage, Guy innocently pours her first drink of brandy down her throat. Suddenly, Mrs. Sabot is transformed and goes on the town with the attentive Guy. The tables are turned when Andrew suspects that his mother is falling for the suave actor. All works out for the best by the final curtain and the Americans have learned how to enjoy life, courtesy of the city of lights.
Director-choreographer Thomas Sabella-Mills has assembled a strong cast for these colorful characters. At the piano, musical director Richard Hip-Flores has an impressively light touch, particularly in evidence with Porter’s sprightly syncopated rhythms. The new score includes Porter favorites such as Let’s Misbehave and What is this Thing Called Love.”Among the restored songs, some being heard in New York for the first time, are Vivienne, Bad Girl in Paree, When I Found You, Quelque Chose, Dizzy Baby, Which, and Heaven Hop. Witty interpolations from now long forgotten revues include Fish, Fountain of Youth, Wait Until It’s Bedtime, and An Old Fashioned Boy/An Old Fashioned Girl. Performed concert style, script in hand, like the City Center Encores and the York Theatre Muftis, Paris, which uses the original rediscovered book, is presented in two acts, rather than the original three.
As the heroine, the ubiquitous Vivienne, Evans is decidedly French, though a little bit chilly to be totally charming. VanArsdel makes a delightful transition from the puritanical Mrs. Sabot to the fun-loving Cora. Kraft as her son Andrew is a stalwart hero, even though the script gives him little variety. Edwards has a great deal of personality as Vivienne’s co-star Guy who ingratiates himself with Cora, as well as demonstrating his fine baritone. Gino Milo is delightful as Vivienne’s cockney maid Harriet, and has a good deal of fun with her number Don’t Look at Me That Way, in which she flirts with a marble statue.
Parrish is fine as Cora’s strait-laced companion Brenda who has her eye on Andrew, and acquits herself well in their third act duets. Borrowing Maurice Chevalier’s accent, John Alban Coughlan seems to the manner born as Vivienne’s taciturn musical director Marcel. Although the concert format does not allow for a great deal of dancing, Sabella-Mills has choreographed a witty production number for Let’s Do It with Evans, Edwards, Selby Brown, Stefan Basti and Sean Bell. Brown and VanArdel show how well they can cut a rug to the syncopated, Dizzy Baby.
As proves to be true of many lost twenties musicals, Paris turns out to have a very lightweight book. However, in the Musicals Tonight! revival, the restored score is the thing. Now Cole Porter’s Paris can compete with many of his more well-known musical comedies.