Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
Cole Porter, more than any other of the composers of the Great American Songbook, resists restyling. For sure a great singer (Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra) can make these tunes over in their unique ways, but most singers are strongly advised to stay close to Porter's original ideas. The creators of this show, which appeared recently as the final Pops Series concert of the season for Artist Series Concerts of Sarasota, have not found what I call the "center of gravity" for most of these songs. By that I mean the proper tempo ("From This Moment On" in a real waltz tempo?), the sense of what the song is about, and how to make it land for audience enjoyment. No where are the recurring themes in Porter's oeuvre (love of Paris, yearning ballads, Beguine rhythms) addressed. Song choices were suspect; we had quite a number of lesser known tunes like "I've Still Got My Health," "I'm a Gigolo" and "Get Out of Town" yet no "Begin the Beguine" or "I Love Paris." On top of that there were some unquestionable clunkers heard ("But in the Morning, No" and "Back in Circulation"). The irony of all my harsh criticism of the blueprint of this show is that I have much admired Mark Waldrop's work on many other projects.
The show was directed by John Simpkins and co-directed/choreographed by Erin Farrell Speer, who I fear did not bring out the best that the talented cast had in them. Cole Porter is not a dancing composer. Proof of this is that he only wrote songs for one Fred Astaire movie, You'll Never Get Rich, even if two of the songs are classics ("So Near and Yet So Far" and "Dream Dancing"). None of Porter's Broadway shows had strong dance elements and his most important songs don't yearn to be danced to. So much dancing, even though the cast was definitely up to the demands placed upon them, only served to not allow the audience to fully appreciate the songs. I doubt that many in the audience realized that "Cherry Pies Ought to Be You" is an insult duet, because the dancing ended with the boy and girl in each other's arms.
With all this against them, it is amazing that the cast came off as well as they did. On the distaff side of things, hometown favoritism made Maria Wirries seem the strongest, although not getting one good song to solo on did not display her talents as well as I might have wished. Julia Hemp realized "Love for Sale" with an assist from Ms. Wirries beautifully. Laura Guley has a big voice but the mics did her no favors as she seemed shrill at times. Cole Porter wrote for legitimate voices, no mics or at best an entirely different kind of mic that is much kinder to voices, and this clash of styles didn't help the cast. On the male side, Johnathan Philip Teeling and Joseph Allen were very strong dancers and decent singers, while Daniel Teixeira was strongest as a singer and still quite a good dancer. All of the women did fine on the dancing, as well.
At the twin pianos we had Loclan Mackenzie-Spencer and Chris Rayis, both playing well but the arrangements sabotaged them.
The audience seemed to like Hot 'n' Cole far better than I did. Perhaps with this body of music coursing through my veins with every beat of my heart, I am unable to enjoy it watered down for an easier experience.
Hot 'n' Cole was presented May 14, 2017, by Artist Series Concerts of Sarasota at Sarasota Opera House, Sarasota, Florida. For more information, please visit artistseriesconcerts.org
Cast (in alphabetical order):