by Joe Regan Jr.
Fred Barton has been producing a series entitled “American Showstoppers” at the Schimmel Center at Pace University for several years. The 8th Concert, March 4, was “An Evening with Cole Porter.” Barton does amazing research about the songwriters and shares many stories from his discoveries. Barton had an orchestra of fourteen first rate musicians and fourteen singers and dancers . The entire production was directed and choreographed by Scott Thompson
The line up for the Cole Porter evening featured Lisa Howard from “It Shoulda Been You,” Beth Leavel, Tony winner for “Drowsy Chaperone,” John Bolton from the recent revival of “Dames At Sea,” Paula Leggett Chase recently in the revival of “On the Twentieth Century,” Karen Murphy, Damon Kirsche, Sean McGibbon, Jesse Luttrell, and Broadway dancers Colt Adam, Samantha Gershman, Tanya Haglund, Justin Henry, Edward Lawrence and Nic Thompson who proved they could both tap dance and do ballet.
Barton opened the show with “Please Don’t Monkey With Broadway” from the film “Broadway Melody of 1940” bringing on all the six dancers to do a Rockettes like number with him.
Barton related how Porter often wrote songs for specific performers. As an example, he cited “I’ve Still Got My Health” which was written for Ethel Merman and sung by this night very smartly by Lisa Howard. Lisa , an imposing stage presence, delivered a moving and vocally exciting rendition of “Down In The Depths” (after Barton told the story of its creation on the road.) Bolton, strikingly handsome, energetically delivered Porter’s list song, “They Couldn’t Compare To You,” “Let’s Do It,” a long duet with Murphy with lots of extra lyrics (Barton introduced how Porter got away with playing with the word beginning with “f“(“fall,”)_ and “At Long Last Love” which Barton related Porter wrote while lying under the horse that crushed his legs.
Barton talked about Porter’s homosexuality and how many of the lyrics were full of double-entendres. Of course, Porter wrote “Love For Sale” which was banned from radio play for years, but he also wrote “I’m A Gigolo” which was about a gay gigolo and was dramatically sung and danced by Kirsche. Kirsche also did a moving mix of “I Love Paris” and “You Don’t Know Paree.”
One of the real rarities was “Pets,” a song about collecting that was sexually sung and danced by Murphy with the male dancers doing animal moves. Right after that Murphy sat on a stool and, with only Barton accompanying her on the piano, sang the great ballad “So In Love.“ Leggett Chase did a long version of “Always True To You In My Fashion” with many lyrics that have never been recorded.
There were funny backstage stories about the writing of “Kiss Me Kate.” Barton told us the Spewacks were not speaking to each other; the wife did not want gangster characters in the show. She was overruled. The result was “Brush Up Your Shakespeare.” Bolton and Kirsche got a great audience reaction for their rip-roaring rendition with lots of Thompson choreography!
One of the most exciting moments was young Sean McGibbon doing brilliant dancing and singing of “Too Darn Hot.” His leaps into the air were astonishing! Jesse Luttrell, in blue silver shoes, had only one number but he sang and danced an excellent “From This Moment On.”
Leavel, a powerful presence on the stage, got to sing “I Get A Kick Out Of You,” a knowing belt on “My Heart Belongs To Daddy” (the orchestra brass on this one was great,) and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.”
Howard, Murphy and Leggett Chase joined forces to sock over the song written for Sophie Tucker, “Most Gentlemen Don’t Like Love.”
Barton explained the background of “Anything Goes” and how the title of the show came about. He discussed the masterful original tempos. Leavel returned to sing a long rendition of the title song backed up by the sensational tap dancers! It was a smash finish. The entire cast reprised “Please Don’t Monkey With Broadway” for the finale.
The next program at the Schimmel Ccenter will be singer and comedienne Ana Gasteyer in a show entitled “I’m Hip” Saturday, March 12 at 7:30 pm. For tickets contact www.schimmelcenter.org or call 1-866-811-4111.
American Showstoppers: An Evening with Cole Porter will repeat Saturday, March 5 at 8 PM at Kingsborough Community College’s Goldstein Center, 2001 Oriental Boulevard, in Brooklyn. Tickets are available at OnStageatKingsborough.org or call the box office at (718) 368-5596.