Cole and the gang: Production of Porter revue reunites veteran performers
Get ready for a marvelous party. It’s hosted by Cole Porter. The American Repertory Theatre’s Cole Porter revue reunites the four cast members from last year’s highly successful and critically acclaimed “A Marvelous Party!”
That show celebrated the work of Noël Coward with the cast singing his signature songs, including the composer’s lyrical reworking of Cole Porter’s “Let’s Do It.”
Now Porter gets center stage.
“The four of us have been together for at least 16 years and done 50 or so shows together,” says actor Will LeBow.
Joining LeBow on stage for “When It’s Hot, It’s Cole!,” which plays at Zero Arrow Theatre in Cambridge through July 20, are Remo Airaldi, Thomas Derrah, Karen MacDonald and newcomer Angela Nahigian.
“She’s kind of the new kid in the bully club,” Derrah says jokingly. “She’s really easygoing and has a lovely voice. She helps keep us on slightly better behavior.”
The production turns the ART’s Zero Arrow Theatre into a nightclub, complete with tables, a bar in the back and waitresses scurrying around to take orders.
On stage, the cast whisks through more than 30 of Porter’s songs, many with modern arrangements. The company has also dug up some obscure songs from his early career, like “I’ve a Shooting Box in Scotland.”
“I’ve never heard of it before,” LeBow admits. “I have a recording of Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby doing it. It’s a song about a guy bragging about all the houses he has around the world.”
LeBow calls it “a patter song” because it’s filled with quick words and clever little rhymes and cultural references from that time: “Pipes constructed from a dry cob/ Baseball hits by Mister Ty Cobb/ Locks of Mrs. Browning’s hair/ Photographs of Ina Claire…”
But a song with even more inside references is “Let’s Not Talk About Love,” another lesser-known Porter patter song: “Let’s talk about drugs, let’s talk about dope/ Let’s try to picture Paramount minus Bob Hope/ Let’s start a new dance, let’s try a new step/ Or investigate the source of Missus Roosevelt’s pep…”
“I don’t even know where it came from,” says Derrah, who performs it. “It’s crazy fast and you’re spitting out all these verses. That’s what made Porter a genius. He was America’s answer to Noël Coward.”
But the heart of the show isn’t digging up the obscure. The traditional Porter classics like “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” and “It’s De-Lovely” are performed, some in a melody and others with modernized arrangements.
The production may also give Cole Porter a proper introduction to a new generation of fans.
“We had great success last year with the Coward show,” LeBow says. “We got a nice cross population in terms of age. It’s great to see young people enjoying (that type of music).”
It’s that spark of enjoyment that connects LeBow to the younger generation, mostly because he was that age when he “rediscovered” Cole Porter. LeBow saw Porter on the “Ed Sullivan” show and listened to the LPs his brother brought home.
But it wasn’t until later that LeBow found a true appreciation for Porter’s work that went past the catchy melodies.
“When I was in my 20s and started to play the songs on piano, I discovered the beauty of the lyrics,” LeBow says. “It was the themes that brought me back to him. When you’re a teenager, you don’t think too much about unrequited love.”
So, if this show is a hit, will the “Marvelous Party” tackle someone else in the future?
“Maybe next year we’ll do Irving Berlin,” Derrah says, laughing.