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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

Porter Revue: (Not So) Hot 'n Cole
at the Bickford

also see Bob's review of Hairspray

Hot 'n Cole
Cast of Hot 'n Cole
Fifty Cole Porter songs, sung either in part or in their entirety, comprise the revue Hot 'n Cole: A Cole Porter Celebration which is ensconced at the Bickford Theatre in Morristown. The level of performance of the cast of six is not sufficient to provide more than intermittent entertainment.

The creators of Hot 'n Cole (David Armstrong, Mark Waldrop and Bruce W. Coyle) have grouped about one third of the songs in either a setting (a dressy party includes "I'm Throwing a Ball Tonight" and "Well, Did You Evah!" among others), a small vignette (New York City audition and show opening "Another Op'nin', Another Show" and "I Happen to Like New York"), a style (duets "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To" and "Night and Day") or a theme (disenchanted, angry lovers "I Hate Men" and "Just One of Those Things").

Still, as in any revue, each number has to stand or fall on its own, and the uneven performances are simply not strong enough to provide enough lift. Despite their best efforts, none of the attractive, clean cut performers are able to muster either the sophistication, world weariness, or high style to truly convey the world of Cole Porter.

Vocally, the male contingent fares far better than their female counterparts. Strong voiced David Weitzer fares especially well vocally on the big romantic ballads, particularly "Rosalie" and "From This Moment On" ( a duet with Jennifer Winegardner). Dressed as a butler, Weitzer is humorously arch in his delivery of "Miss Otis Regrets."

Bob Jacobson sings pleasantly throughout, and with his "Tale of the Oyster" comes closest of all to capturing the Porter style. Gerard Lebeda smoothly offers "You Do Something to Me", and "I'm a Gigolo."

Stephanie Tennill stands out among the female singers. She duets exceptionally well (with Bob Jacobson) on the medley "Let's Do It"/"Let's Not Talk About Love." Backed by the company, Tennill smoothly delivers a doo-wop "I Get a Kick Out of You" (although I'd prefer a more traditional arrangement without the "sha, la, la, bing, bong" backup vocal). On the other hand, "I'm Throwing a Ball Tonight" is so painfully out of Tennill's range that one can only wonder why the music director failed to transpose the song for her.

Jennifer Winegardner does not sing satisfactorily. She tries to bring a Porter musical theatre style to "I've Still Got My Health," but the effort is forced and her timing is off. Here as elsewhere, her singing is off-key. Cynthia Van Wert is simply lost with the material at hand. Her attempt to interpret "Love For Sale" is dreary and desultory. Her "My Heart Belongs to Daddy" is off key and conveys the impression of a youngster trying to act adult and sophisticated.

The musical arrangements by Bruce W. Coyle are mostly pleasant, but bland. The numerous vocal arrangements which have been written for choral singing by the full company fall most smoothly and pleasantly on the ear. Vocalization here is given prominence over lyric interpretation. An example of this is the emphasis on the word "rim" in this lyric:

like the moon growing dim
on the RIM of a hill
in the chill, still of the night.

"Love For Sale" has a particularly strong and sultry arrangement. The music is expertly played on one piano by music director Warren Helms. The pretty set which places the musical director center stage surrounded by platforms fronted with silver disks is by James Bazewicz.

Director Eric Hafen clearly has a great deal of affinity for Cole Porter's music and he clearly has directed with an eye to having his cast perform in classic Porter style. However, for the most part, the group does not come naturally to it and the efforts are stiff and strained. Choreographer Laurie Piro has blended her work smoothly with Hafen's, with the same limited results.

The company performs the obscure Porter tune "Big Town" as an audition number for a Broadway show. It occurred to me as I watched this scene that I was watching auditioners who would not get cast. Still in all, Hot 'n Cole does have its moments.

Hot 'n Cole continues performances through (Thurs.-Sat. 8 p.m./ Sun. 2 p.m.) February 18, 2007 at the Bickford Theatre at the Morris Museum, 6 Normandy Heights Road, Morristown, NJ 07960. Box Office: 973-971-3706; online www.bickfordtheatre.org/.

Hot 'n Cole Words and Music by Cole Porter; devised by David Armstrong, Mark Waldrop and Bruce W. Coyle; directed by Eric Hafen

Cast (in alphabetical order):
Bob Jacobson, Gerard Lebeda, Stephanie Tennill, Cynthia Van Wert, David Weitzer, Jennifer Winegardner.


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- Bob Rendell



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