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CD Review

Cole Porter

DRG 19011

High Society
(1998 Broadway Cast)

  • Melissa Errico (Tracy Samantha Lord)
  • Daniel McDonald (C.K. Dexter Haven)
  • Randy Graff (Liz Imbrie)
  • Stephen Bogardus (Mike Connor)
  • John McMartin (Uncle Willie)
Orchestra conducted by Paul Gemignani
DRG 19011 DDD 60:43
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This is the CD of the Broadway musical version of the movie musical version of the movie version of the Broadway play.

It all started in 1939 with Philip Barry's play The Philadelphia Story. Katharine Hepburn starred as the priggish aristocrat on a voyage of self-discovery as she tries to break one marriage and begin another. She convinced MGM that Barry's play needed to be made into a movie, and she again was the star, joined by Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant. In 1956, MGM enlisted the talents of composer-lyricist Cole Porter to turn The Philadelphia Story into a musical called High Society. It was the studio's success story of 1956, thanks not only to Porter's songs, but also to stars Grace Kelly, Bing Crosby, and Frank Sinatra. Now, given the dearth of old-fashioned musicals on today's Broadway, High Society the movie musical has become High Society the Broadway show. This is the reverse of the old pattern set by the shows of Rodgers and Hammerstein, et al., but it not unique; the same thing happened to State Fair just a few years ago. The new book is by Arthur Kopit, and Susan Birkenhead, where needed, has contributed additional lyrics.

This is not a simple stage adaptation of the movie. Songs have been added and others have been dropped. Given the absence of Louis Armstrong, it is not surprising that the Broadway show lacks "High Society Calypso" and "Now You Has Jazz." ("Mind If I Make Love To You?" is another casualty.) Interpolations from other shows include "Ridin' High," "I Love Paris," "She's Got That Thing," and "It's All Right With Me." Some of these additions are gratuitous, and others do seem to fit into the plot. Because I have not seen the show (and because DRG has not supplied a synopsis - an unfortunate omission), I can't be sure of this either, but I believe the plot has been somewhat altered.

It wouldn't be fair to compare Errico, McDonald, and Bogardus to Kelly, Crosby, and Sinatra; the new singers are perfectly good in their own way. The Broadway show seems to be more of an ensemble piece than the movie, so smaller-scaled leads make sense. Melissa Errico is flexible enough to be both brassy and tender, and her "It's All Right With Me" is the show's worthy turning-point. Daniel McDonald's Dexter is charming and irresponsible, and it's a shame that he doesn't get to do more with "True Love," one of Porter's most unequivocally romantic songs. As Mike Connor, Stephen Bogardus gets even fewer chances to shine, but "You're Sensational" turns out well, and his duet with Randy Graff ("Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?") displays his excellent comic timing. Other cast members include John McMartin as bibulous Uncle Willie and young Anna Kendrick as a precocious and loveable brat. Gemignani, the conductor of so many musical theatre productions, moves Porter's music along with efficiency. The CD's engineering is excellent, but, as mentioned, the annotations are inferior. Also, the track listing in the booklet and on the tray card is incorrect; consult the CD itself for a correct listing.

High Society is the next best thing to a new Cole Porter musical. Broadway still has an obligation to revive the original ones, but if a quilted-together show like this one can succeed, perhaps it will give producers the courage they need to proceed with the real thing.

Copyright © 1999, Raymond Tuttle

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