Tuesday, March 28, 2017
'Madcap,' You Say? Oh, That Would Be An Understatement!
Cole Porter and Jimmy Durante?
What could they possibly have in common?
Porter was all savoir faire while Durante was strictly hardscrabble. Cole was Indiana, Worcester and Yale while Jimmy was the lower east side, vaudeville and the school of hard knocks.
But Porter, a consummate Broadway baby, knew talent when he saw it. And, when it came to knockin 'em dead on stage comically, nobody topped Jimmy.
Of course, even a premiere tunesmith like Porter had to defer to the Schnoz when it came to putting over a song. So, when Durante took a featured role in Porter's 1930 screwball musical The New Yorkers, Durante's songs were written by Jimmy himself and performed with his irrepressible sidekicks Lou Clayton and Eddie Jackson.
And Jimmy's big number, The Hot Patata still holds up quite well, thank you. How do we know? Well, because it's just been preformed on stage by Kevin Chamberlin in homage to Durante as part of the New York City Center Encores production of The New Yorkers featuring an all-star cast and a loving recreation of some of the wildest, most effervescent moments of musical comedy you will ever see.
How clever and carefree is The New Yorkers? Well, when two lovebirds come in out of the rain he asks: "Are you wet?" And she answers: "Wet? Wet? I'm so wet if a breeze came through, I'd ripple!"
The show is full of wiseguys, winks, gangsters, soot-em-ups, molls, pratfalls and double entendres. And any attempt to figure out the plot would elicit nothing more than a robust belly laugh.
It's all been so lovingly reimagined by Encores that you'd hardly know that whole parts of The New Yorkers went missing and that researching the production took the Encores team from UCLA on one coast to Penn State on the other and lots of places in between.
And just because it's madcap doesn't mean it wasn't (or isn't) meaningful.
In fact, Porter broke new ground in this outing with his haunting Love For Sale, sung by a lady of the night and later banned on the radio. Among the other Porter gems beautifully delivered by the Encores ensemble, we enjoyed several that we had never hard before (including Where Have You Been? and The Great Indoors) as well as Let's Fly Away, I Happen To Like New York, Go Into Your Dance, Take Me Back to Manhattan and I'm Getting Myself Ready for You. Many of these songs were later covered by the king and queen of Cafe Society, Mable Mercer and Bobby Short.
Songs inserted in this new production from other Porter musicals include Night and Day, Most Gentleman Don't Like Love, You've Got That Thing and the pre-rap, patter triumph Let's Not Talk About Love, awesomely delivered by Arnie Burton. Of course, jokes and songs about alcohol, and how far people will go to get it, such as Drinking Song and Say It With Gin, reflect the musical's origin from the Prohibition period.
And the whole thing was inspired by those great Peter Arno New Yorker drawings and the magazine itself which was just beginning to emerge in the 1930s.
Are you still interested in the plot? In a nutshell: Wealthy New York socialite Alice Wentworth has a romantic interlude with Al Spanish, a nightclub owner and bootlegger. During their time together, they escape from the police and go to the bootlegging factory, among other adventures. Jimmy Deegan and his buddies Ronald and Oscar aid in their escapades, invent a new alcoholic drink, murder Feet McGeehan (several times!) and assist with the gangland wedding of Al and Alice.
And all of this provided a tear-up-the-stage excuse for the great Encores orchestra and the cast starring Tam Mutu, Scarlett Strallen and Kevin Chamberlin (directed by John Rando) to do their thing with immense affection, high spirits and kudos all around.
If you missed this Encores outing you owe it to yourself to visit City Center Encores pronto and sign up for future productions. You won't be sorry!