By David A. Rosenberg
Is this what we’ve been waiting for? A Wikipedia version of composer/lyricist Cole Porter’s life and work? Or, rather, part of his life and some of his work since he wrote 881 songs and the evening lasts but 75 minutes.
This is not the first time Music Theater of Connecticut has presented “Cole,” the cursory compilation devised by Benny Green and Alan Strachan. Back in 1991, though, the cabaret cornucopia of ditties by the great Broadway figure didn’t seem quite so skimpy or strained.
Maybe we’ve just moved on.
Four talented performers with perfect white teeth team up with pianist and musical director David Wolfson to slide through some of Porter’s irresistible words and music. It all begins, we’re told, “in an era when sophisticated glamour captured the public’s imagination.”
And who in showbiz could be more sophisticated than Porter, unless it’s his world-weary friend Noël Coward who, unlike Porter, was not born into wealth? Here’s Cole, all awhirl, at Yale, in Paris, New York, Hollywood and on the Riviera. Here’s mention of his marriage of convenience to socialite Linda Lee Thomas, to parties given by Elsa Maxwell, to fun and games in between which he managed to write “Night and Day,” “Anything Goes,” “I Get a Kick out of You” and the score for “Kiss Me, Kate,” the great show that rescued him from oblivion.
Here, too, is the devastating accident when Porter was thrown from a horse, resulting in years of pain and a leg amputation. But that disaster and others fly by so fast and coyly that there’s scarcely time to know the man. His penchant for male sex, for instance, is given such short shrift that the phrase “gay peccadilloes” might just as well be interpreted as “happy adventures.”
As compensation, every cast member has a chance to shine. Blair Alexis Brown conjures Ethel Merman in a raucous “Blow Gabriel Blow.” Pert Kathy Calahan does a heartfelt “Love for Sale.” Philip Chaffin spins out “Night and Day,” while Eric Scott Kincaid, so good as the Emcee in MTV’s “Cabaret,” gives us a sly “I’m a Gigolo,” one of the many songs that got Porter in hot water with censors.
The entertainment benefits from Kenneth Moule’s snazzy arrangements. Since not much can be done with the material, director Kevin Connors has the performers traverse every bit of MTC’s tiny stage.
In the end, there’s a glimpse of insight with Porter’s final song. “Wouldn’t it be fun not to be famous/Wouldn’t it be fun not to be rich.” Well, he was famous and rich and both his life and work were much more complicated than this well-intentioned revue