Can-Can Kicks Up its Heals
Also see Richard's review of The Opposite of Sex
I first saw this dazzling musical at the Shubert Theatre in the summer of 1953 with Lilo as La Mome Pistache, Peter Cookson, Hans Conried and a newcomer by the name of Gwen Verdon. The critics were mixed on the production and dismissed the Cole Porter score as not being up to his usual standards. I disagree with them, since time has shown that five of the show's songs ("I Love Paris," "C'est Magnifique," "It's All Right with Me," "Allez-Vous-En" and the catchy title song) have become standard classics. Gwen Verdon stopped the show in the first act as Claudine the laundress, much to the consternation of Lilo. Ms. Verdon walked off with the first of her four Tony Awards. The musical became the second top grossing musical of the 1950s.
Since that opening, I have seen six productions of this musical, including the revival 1980 tour with Chita Rivera and the rewritten London revival starring Donna McKechnie and Milo O'Shea. Encores produced it several years ago with Patti LuPone in the lead, and it became its most successful production. The musical is as compelling as ever.
Can-Can is set in Paris in 1893 where it captures the spirit of Belle Époque and recalls the decadence of the "live and let live" morality of the Gay Nineties. Pistache (Ann Morrison) is the first female owner of an illegal but profitable café where women dance the provocative Can-Can. The youthful, idealistic and fervent Judge Aristide Forestier (Michael Taylor) attempts to bring down the business. She tries to bribe him as she has other judges, but this utopian person refuses to be bribed with French francs.
Of course, love and complications occur to make the musical more interesting. There is a subplot involving Claudine (Alexandra Kaprielian), a dancer at Pistache's café, and Boris (Bill Fahrner), a mad and egotistical sculptor. Famous art critic Hilaire Jussac (Kenneth Baggott) enters the picture, and Boris is willing to turn a blind eye to the critic's flirtations with Claudine, hoping his lover will get the critic to give his sculptures a good review.
Ann Morrison (original cast of Merrily We Roll Along and title role in Peg in London) is dynamite as La Mome Pistache. She gives superb readings in "I Love Paris," "Allez-Vous-En," "C'Est Magnifique," and delivers the naughty jokes and belts out "Can-Can." Bill Fahrner almost steals the show with his wacky impersonation of the mad Boris. His "Bulgarian" accent is perfect, and he is hilarious in his duet with Kenneth Baggott, who is also very good in "Come Along with Me."
Alexandra Kaprielian, who has appeared in many of the company productions, gets her chance to shine as dancer Claudine. Kaprielian proves to be an excellent dancer with great singing chops. Nancy Dobbs Owens' tango number with Tom Segal, who plays the lead dancer at the café, is exciting. Michael Taylor (Phantom of the Opera) as the idealistic judge sings an affecting "It's All Right With Me." He has an elegant voice.
Rudy Guerrero, Ryan Donovan, Timothy Meyers, Simon Trumble and Bill Fahrner are uproarious in "Never, Never Be An Artist." The rest of the cast are all top notch. The Can-Can at the end choreographed by Jane Zaban is exuberant and feisty. Greg MacKellan's direction is bright and brisk. Dave Dobrusky once again proves he is a master at the piano. Costumes by Barbara Rosen are authentic for late 19th century Paris.
Yes, Can, Can, c'est magnifique.
Can-Can runs through October 31 at the Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson Street, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-978-2787 or visit www.42ndStMoon.org.
Their next production is the rarely produced Harold Arlen/Yip Harburg 1937 musical Hooray for What! which opens on November 10 and runs through November 28.