FLASH SPECIAL: We Can CAN-CAN Again! A Parisian Cole Porter Celebration
With news coming late last week of a revised and reworked edition of the Cole Porter/Abe Burrows Golden Age musical CAN-CAN aiming for a reading in October and the possibility of a potential major revival production thereafter, now seems like a tres bien moment in time to glance back at the underappreciated charms of this alluring, Paris-set show. Plus, from Gwen Verdon, Patti LuPone, Eartha Kitt, Shirley MacLaine and Chita Rivera to Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Kelly Clarkson, MAD MEN's Christina Hendricks and many more, this clip collection has more than just an errant bright bulb or two to add to the already magnificent and romantic sights and sounds of the city of lights as conjured up by Porter and company.
Premiering in 1953, directed by bookwriter Burrows and originally featuring then-up-and-coming major musical theatre royalty in the form of relative newcomer Gwen Verdon, CAN-CAN was a smash hit, running more than two years (nearly 900 performances) on Broadway and spawning a West End production, netting Tony Awards for Verdon (as Best Featured Actress In A Musical) and choreographer Michael Kidd. In 1960, Walter Lang directed a hit feature film adaptation of the property starring Shirley MacLaine, Frank Sinatra, Louis Jourdan, Maurice Chevalier and Juliet Prowse, and, though it only ported over a handful of songs from the score, it managed to be the second most lucrative movie of that year. Alas, the bubbly and baudy musical about the can-can girls, courtesans and other conspirators at a Moulin Rouge-esque nightclub called Montmartre has languished in relative obscurity for most of the sixty years since.
The years have not been especially kind to the slightly creaky original book and somewhat sketchy cast of characters within CAN-CAN, so, as a result, Broadway babies commonly see it as a success d'estime - besides the woe begotten 1960 film version (misguided at least insofar as its relation to the original stage property is concerned), the 1981 first Broadway revival production starring Zizi Jeanmaire was a fast flop (lasting less than a week) and many subsequent revivals and reappraisals have failed to make much of an impact, as well. A CHORUS LINE Tony Award-winner Donna McKechnie and iconic musical theatre diva Chita Rivera both had modest success with revivals in the 1980s, as did PHANTOM OF THE OPERA standout Judy Kaye in a production mounted at The Muny in 1983, but it was not until the 2004 Encores! presentation that the show seemed truly viable again for a modern audience - and that was largely due to the impressive turn in it by none other than legendary leading lady Patti LuPone, who made "I Love Paris" into a powerhouse theatrical showstopper as it never quite was before in any other performance of it, as utterly glorious as the song itself may be, before or since. One thing Cole Porter scores always afford actors with is the opportunity to really sell a song and make it land and really count, and, when coupled with a titanic talent like many of the ladies listed above, the result can be positively combustible. Look no further than LuPone's "I Love Paris" for proof in the pudding of that fact - or, should I say, souffle.
Yet, is the world ready - and, furthermore, is Broadway prepared - to give itself over to the myriad majesties hidden away in this endearingly romantic musical comedy? With this week's news of a new book having been commissioned and new reading spearheaded by the heirs to Burrows estate themselves, we may now ask ourselves who the ideal cast would be for the grand return of a classic musical by one of Broadway's best, Cole Porter, and what - if any - cut songs or other Porter gems should or could find their way into the already impressive original score as it exists. From "I Love Paris" to "C'est Magnifique" to "C'est Si Bon" and "It's Alright With Me", this songstack has more than its fair share of requisite Porterian sophistication and appeal. C'est si tres bon!
So, let's take a look back at some of the most memorable musical moments from CAN-CAN since its premiere sixty years ago, as well as revisit some of the most cherished and worthy covers of tunes from the classics-stacked score. Oh la la!
First up, the man behind the music and lyrics himself, Cole Porter, offers up an oft-cut song from CAN-CAN with the delicious and delicate "Who Said Gay Paree?"
Journey back to the 1953 original Broadway production of CAN-CAN, starring original triple-threat stage stunner Gwen Verdon in one of her first major roles, with this fascinating collection of original production photos set to the sounds of Cole Porter's characteristically charming overture.
Check out the dynamic diva supremacy of Patti LuPone performing one of CAN-CAN's most recognizable gems, "I Love Paris", as part of the 2004 Encores! City Center production, joined by Rob Fisher and the Coffee Club Orchestra.
Experience another Broadway legend giving CAN-CAN some serious legs with this performance capture clip of the 1988 international tour of the show, featuring The Rockettes and Ron Holgate alongside the one and only Chita Rivera.
American Dance Machine performs Michael Kidd's original choreography for CAN-CAN's "Quadrille", led by Gail Benedict, in this 1985 retrospective video recreation, hosted by Tom Bosley.
Singing a ribald and raucous ditty from the rich score of CAN-CAN, chanteuse Lilo - a star of the original production - lends her wiles to the absolutely guffaw-inducing "Never Give Anything Away (That You Can Sell)".
60s pop sensation Brenda Lee jazzes up CAN-CAN's "It's Alright With Me" in this far-out, if little-seen, TV clip from 1964.
Classic bandmaster and conductor Nelson Riddle leads this spirited cover of "Montmartre" from CAN-CAN. With this arrangement, all that's seemingly missing is the martini - or, maybe, in this case, make that champagne?
Since just one is never, ever enough, here is Nelson Riddle And His Orchestra's take on another tune from CAN-CAN - a property which was assumedly particularly close to his heart given his affiliation with the unfortunately song-lite 1960 film adaptation.
With one more Nelson Riddle stunner, here is "C'est Magnifique" from Nelson Riddle PLAYS CAN-CAN FOR DANCING.
The 1961 Francophile record PARIS BY NIGHT, arranged and conducted by Paul Mauriat, featured a few orchestral Cole Porter CAN-CAN earworms worth hearing, as well, none more so than this swingin' medley featuring "C'est Si Bon", "I Love Paris" and "Paname".
While the 1960 film version of CAN-CAN is vastly different from the stage iteration, the few musical numbers that remain from the original score possess some worthwhile charm, as do a few of the additions. To wit, here is Shirley MacLaine's cute "Come Along With Me".
Gallic GIGI stars Louis Jourdan and Maurice Chavalier reteam for this caustic Cole Porter duet, "Live And Let Live". Scandalisme!
Interpolating a song from another France-focused Cole Porter musical, PARIS, the film adaptation of CAN-CAN made use of "Let's Do It" to quite winning effect, thanks in no small part to Frank Sinatra, one of the film's headliners.
Christina Hendricks dons an accordion to perform "C'est Magnifique" in one of the most memorable scenes from Season Three of AMC's Emmy Award-winning period drama MAD MEN.
Original 1960s bombshell Gina Lollabrigida va-va-vooms through "C'est Magnifique" on an Italian variety show in 1973.
Eartha Kitt claws her sensual paws - and lets loose with sexy purrs - all over "C'est Magnifique" in this captivating vintage recording of the Cole Porter classic. C'est chaud!
Dean Martin spruces up "C'est Si Bon" in this impossibly cool and slinky arrangement of the Cole Porter standard.
At a 2006 tribute to music icon Tony Bennett, original AMERICAN IDOL winner Kelly Clarkson sings "It's Alright With Me" from CAN-CAN with her requisite vocal prowess.
As a special bonus, enjoy this recreation of one of Porter's other Paris-themed muiscals, 1928's PARIS, as seen in the 2004 biomusical DE-LOVELY, performed by Grammy Award-winner Alanis Morissette.
So, who would you like to see populate a production of Cole Porter's ode to the home of the Eiffel Tower should the revamped and rewritten CAN-CAN come Broadway's way some season soon? Furthermore, what Cole Porter musical hallmarks are you looking most forward to experiencing hearing live onstage once again - or, for many of us, for the very first time? Indeed, with a show this rife with comedy, history and romance and the potential for any number of sensational contemporary stars to give these Golden Age musical mainstays their rightful theatrical due once again on the great stages of the Great White Way, it seems amply evident that CAN-CAN very well could - or, pardonnez moi, can - can-can again. With luck, tout de suite!
From This Author Pat Cerasaro