Review – Cole Porter’s “Paris” – Lost Musicals, Sadlers Wells

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Lost Musicals is a series that celebrates forgotten members of the Golden Age American Musicals. Back in the day, new musicals opened a lot more frequently than they do now, rather in the way these days we have a never-ending series of movies rotating in and out of the local cinema. So any given composer would be very likely to have created a stash of shows that met with differing levels of success; only a very few have carried their popularity forward.

This slow fade into obscurity seems especially sapping for the 20s; aside from Anything Goes and Thoroughly Modern Millie, they seem to have all vanished. Fortunately, one student poking around the archives of a California college managed to dig up the score and book for “Paris” (or so I recall from the pre-show discussion) and thus we are graced with an opportunity to hear fresh work by America’s wittiest composer, Cole Porter, as well as see “Let’s Do It” and “Let’s Misbehave” in their original setting*.

Now, the plot is just a bit of fluff, exactly of the sort mocked in “The Drowsy Chaperone;” American mother goes to Paris to convince roue’ son to abandon his utterly unsuitable actress fiancee; fiancee’s leading man gives said teetotaller mother her first sip of brandy; comedy ensues. It only needed a monkey to round it out. I laughed at its ridiculousness (it just kept piling it on), but another audience member couldn’t stand it. Oh well, horses for courses; I could only assume he wanted Sondheim, or, God forbid, Webber.

Perhaps he didn’t like the setting. My friend expected a movie; perhaps this man expected a fully staged show. I thought we were just going to get singing. In fact, Lost Musicals has the entire show performed, with the actors, in concert performance clothes, reading out of scripts. It’s kind of similar to how Brown Derby does their restaging of old movies in Seattle (but without the heavy sense of irony). I was actually surprised by how much acting was going on: Mom (Anne Reid) was definitely staggering around the stage when drunk, the butler (Stewart Permutt) was going to a lot of trouble to mime moving statues around actress Vivienne’s flat, and son Andrew (Richard Dempsey) looked in love when appropriate and then put out later. Poor Vivienne (Sian Reeves) even had to do a dance number. She, however, was decked out in 20s glam, with gold lame, a head-dress, and flapper-cut skirt – really outstanding given that everyone else was in their blacks, but, of course, perfect for the role.

The singing was uniformly very good. Mom Sabbot sounded matronly, son Andrew Sabbot looked (and sounded) like the callow youth he was (and transformed nicely over the course of the show); Guy Pennel (James Vaughn) may have been a bit old for the role but was enchanting as a French actor slash gigolo. Brenda Kaley (Clare Foster), who seemed to have been brought along by mom from Massachusetts just for the ride, had a great moment where she cut loose that reminded me a lot of Hairspray.

I bought the plot, I enjoyed the performance, I was unbothered by the lack of set, I loved the witty dialogue, I was thrilled to hear this music performed live. In fact, I liked it so much that at the interval I sat down and planned when I was going to see the next two shows in this year’s series. Forget trying to watch silent movies in a cinema; seeing live productions of musicals that have fallen out of favor is much, much more difficult. I will absolutely be going for the rest of the season, and, musical theater geek that I am, I think I’ve just been converted for life.

*I think, anyway. Don’t quote me on this; I wasn’t taking notes when the show was being introduced, but since it’s supposed to be a “faithful presentation of the original work,” I think this means this is the play in which these songs first appeared. Here’s the complete list of songs, which differs from what’s on Wikipedia:
Act 1: Vivienne, The Land of Going to Be. Act 2: Let’s Do it, The Heaven Hop (which reminded me of the song “Toledo Surprise” from Drowsy Chaperone), Don’t Look At Me That Way, Let’s Misbehave. Act 3: Two Little Babes in the Wood, The Land of Going to Be, Finalture.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Sunday, March 28th, at 2 PM. It continues on Sundays through April 25th at Sadler’s Wells; be advised Easter Sunday is sold out but there were probably 10 returns the day I went so it is probably not too difficult to pick some up on the day if you’re motivated. Running time is about 2 1/2 hours. Note that tea and snacks are very cheap in the Peacock, just 2.50 for tea and a muffin, so I advise you place your interval order in advance so you can take advantage of these great prices and have a nice natter.)

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4 Responses to “Review – Cole Porter’s “Paris” – Lost Musicals, Sadlers Wells”

  1. June 2010 Theater calendar « Life in the Cheap Seats – Webcowgirl’s London theatre reviews Says:

    […] the latest offering from Lost Musicals. I really liked the first thing I saw by them, Cole Porter’s “Paris,” and have high hopes for the “classic American songbook in a stripped down staging” that […]

  2. Review – The Day Before Spring – Lost Musicals at Sadler’s Wells « Life in the Cheap Seats – Webcowgirl’s London theatre reviews Says:

    […] the judgment of history) might have had shows that fell by the wayside; and thus we have not just Cole Porter’s “Paris” (the late-winter production) but Lerner and Loewe’s “The Day Before Spring,” which, as it turns out, I went to […]

  3. Whitney Says:

    I have been seeking the score, (or at least vocal score/selections) for the musical Paris, and was wondering if you know of any other sources where one can get it?

    Much thanks,

    Whitney

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