'Hot 'n Cole' heats up Westport Country Playhouse
By David Rosenberg
The way the air-conditioning was blasting on opening night at the Westport Country Playhouse, the name of the show should have been changed from “Hot ‘n Cole” to “Cole and Colder.” That is, until performers Andrea Dora and, especially, Lewis Cleale raised the temperature several degrees as they sizzled in “Let’s Do It,” “Let’s Not Talk About Love” and “Goodbye, Little Dream Goodbye.”
Under James Naughton’s snappy direction, the revue, offering nearly four dozen songs from the mighty imagination of Cole Porter, is sophisticated and tasteful. But it really rockets when Cleale and Dora take charge. Set at a party in a New York loft apartment, the premise fits perfectly with Porter’s high-toned yet playful, urban and urbane lyrics. One of the evening’s feats is its reminder that Porter was as much a brilliant melodist as he was a lyricist. Thanks to sterling onstage pianists Mark Berman and Steven F. Silverstein, his tunes lift the spirits.
Shonn Wiley and Whitney Bashor.
Photo by T. Charles Erickson
Many Porter favorites are here, from “Night and Day” to “Easy to Love,” “In the Still of the Night, “Just One of Those Things” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” Then there are the incomparable comic rhymes of “Tale of the Oyster,” “Cherry Pies” and “Let’s Do It” (“The dragon flies in the reeds do it / Sentimental centipedes do it”). Stir in rarities like “My Broth of a Boy” from the unproduced film “Mississippi Belle,” “I’m Back in Circulation” (cut from the 1938 “You Never Know”) and the gorgeous “From This Moment On” (unused in the 1950 “Out of This World” but inserted into the 1953 film version of “Kiss Me Kate”).
You won’t learn either the origins of the songs or anything about Porter himself in the evening devised by David Armstrong, Mark Waldrop and Bruce W. Coyle. Wisely, Naughton, music director Berman and choreographer Lisa Shriver throw out the original script’s paltry narration and suggested costume changes, cut some songs, add others, re-arrange their order and, in general, give the evening shape. Now, the cast sings and drinks while constantly re-grouping to tell a tale, however slight, about what men and women might do to hook up at a party.
Let’s get back to Lewis Cleale. Exuberant, ingratiating and sensuous, he knows when to satirize (“Tale of the Oyster”), when to jazz it up, when to get romantic. With the congenial Andrea Dora as his counterpart, Cleale easily walks off with the evening.
Peter Reardon, so marvelous in Goodspeed’s “Pal Joey” some years back, has an easy style and a feeling for curios like “My Broth of a Boy” and “Weren’t We Fools?” Donna Lynne Champlin is an accomplished performer, although she sometimes struggles to find the key. The apple-fresh Shonn Wiley has an ingratiating presence. Only Whitney Bashor disappoints: Her voice is harsh and she seems out of her league.
Hugh Landwehr’s set, with its wonderful view of New York, combine with Clifton Taylor’s lighting, Laurie Churba Kohn’s color-coordinated costumes and Dominic Sack’s sound design (the performers are miked) to support an enjoyable though not quite a “marvelous, swellegant, fabulous, elegant” party. Porter’s spice may be missing but his music and lyrics are balm for the ears and “oh, so easy to love.”
(This review appeared in The Hour, June 19, 2008)