HOT ‘n’ COLE: A Cole Porter Celebration! (Mauckingbird): What a swell party it is

Photo of the men of Mauckingbird Theatre Company’s HOT N’ COLE Photo by Luis Fernando Rodriguez.

The men of Mauckingbird Theatre Company’s HOT N’ COLE (L-R Philip Anthony Wilson, John McCarthy, and Luke Brahdt). Photo by Luis Fernando Rodriguez.

Cole Porter, composer and songwriter par excellence has his own whole chapter in the Great American Songbook. For years Porter hid his homosexuality, although sometimes it’s hidden in plain sight in his lyrics. Later in his career he found his bearings and came out. However, this show is not a docudrama about his life, but a lively revue. The ladies’ 30s-style gowns sparkle in the light and the gents are in black tie. The Skybox Theater, outfitted with a wine bar, has acquired the atmosphere of a 1930s nightclub. Several round tables with candles are available for audience members who arrive early enough to snag one.

In mounting this work by David Armstrong, Mark Waldrop, and Bruce W. Coyle, Mauckingbird director Brandon McShaffrey wanted “an environment that would surround the audience with the casual sophistication that is the base of Porter’s lyrics,” where the audience can “be swept into a world that is uniquely ours.” Mauckingbird Theatre Company provides innovative, affordable, gay-themed theater.
McShaffrey’s sharp, knowing direction guides the ensemble through ever-changing vignettes of both opposite and same-sex romantic interactions. Scintillating love songs, light and teasing or devastatingly downhearted, are accompanied by two skilled pianists, Hana J. Cai (Musical Director) and David Jenkins.

If only all the singing were as assured as the music, acting and direction.

Luke Brahdt does a delectable rendition of “I’m a Gigolo” and an innuendo-dripping “My Heart Belongs to Daddy.” In “Love For Sale” (appetizing young love for sale), his tux has been pared down to a wife-beater tee. It’s always interesting to see how Mauckingbird can do that voodoo that they do so well, getting suggestive and maybe a bit dodgy without crossing the sleaze line.

Photo by Luis Fernando Rodriguez

the women of Mauckingbird Theatre Company’s HOT N’ COLE (L-R Nicole Renna, Michelle Eugene, and Jenna Roglaski). Photo by Luis Fernando Rodriguez

Baritone John McCarthy, who can be silly and as airy as a Miller Lite can also lay it on thick and depressing. Sad songs say so much. His “Down in the Depths (On the 90th Floor)” gives a glimpse of what must have been Cole Porter’s own tortuous loneliness. And Philip Anthony Wilson’s rendition of “I Get a Kick Out of You” is sung too quietly, but so simply and counter-intuitively, it will break your heart. Jenna Rogalski’s energetic acting and timing show panache. With tongue tripping lyrics down cold, she can rattle off the hard parts of “Let’s Not Talk About Love,” just like Tom Lehrer singing about the Periodic Table waaay back in ’59.

Michelle Eugene does a glamorous Marlene Dietrich in “You Do Something to Me.” Songs are often posited against one another, as is her “From this Moment On,” which is paired with McCarthy’s “I’m Back in Circulation.” Nicole Renna, an actress and singer whose lovely poise helps keep the evening spiffy, sings about a bi-valve social climber and later sings sweetly to someone in the audience, giving her a rose.

The acting shines right across the board, delivering subtle and not so subtle messages with humor and good timing. Singing, however, is not a strong point overall. For one example, with “In the Still of the Night,” the ensemble has difficulty fitting the harmony together. You cross your fingers and hope they’ll get through it. Often during the evening there’s difficulty with voice projection or staying on key. But if you accept going in, that while this show is all about the songs, it isn’t Juilliard, you’ll totally enjoy the ride. Get yourself a glass of wine and enjoy Porter’s musical repartee and stylish insinuation, the swell costumes, and the atmosphere. It’s great to spend an evening feeling a bit more sophisticated than you actually are. [Skybox at the Adrienne, 2030 Sansom Street] January 13–February 1, 2015; Mauckingbird.org.

Song list Sampler

Act 1
Anything Goes
Experiment
I Still Got My Heath
It’s De-Lovely
I’m a Gigolo
Miss Otis Regrets
Tale of the Oyster
You Do Something to Me
In The Still of the Night
Take Me Back to Manhattan
I Happen to Like New York
Love for Sale
I’m Throwin’ a Ball Tonight
Well Did Ya Evah?
At Long Last Love
Rub Your Lamp
Too Darn Hot
Just One of Those Things

Act 2
I’m Back in Circulation
From This Moment On
My Heart Belongs to Daddy
I Get a Kick Out of You
Get Out of Town
Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall in Love
Let’s Not Talk About Love
All Through the Night
Night and Day

Reviews, Theater - Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , - 1 comment

About the author

Kathryn Osenlund, theater and film junkie, is a former National Critics Institute fellow, NEA fellow in Arts Journalism, and member of the American Theater Critics Assn Steinberg and Osborn playwriting awards committee. A Barrymore Award nominator and professor emeritus in communications and theater, Kathryn also writes for NY-based CurtainUp.com. On twitter @theatrendorphin.