BWW Review: Michael Griffiths Does a Complete 180 During COLE at The Green Room 42
From the moment Michael Griffiths is seen making his entrance from the back of the room, limping, assisted by a cane, it can be assumed that the show COLE is starting from behind the curve. Griffiths is clearly playing Cole Porter and will be speaking as Porter, sharing stories from his life. Widely known to be an alcoholic closeted homosexual who suffered great physical pain from the accident that left him lame, Cole Porter's life story, as told by Mr. Porter himself, was sure to be an unhappy evening of cabaret. Why not just throw in Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, Oscar Wilde, and Noel Coward and make it a royal flush of sardonic wit and unhappy endings? Still, the show holds at least one Ace in the hole, the songs of Cole Porter: best to remain optimistic.
The optimism pays off insomuch as Michael Griffiths is a fantastic pianist with an extraordinary voice, and listening to him perform these classics from The Great American Songbook is a real treat. However, that's not all Mr. Griffiths does in his one-act cabaret play COLE. He does, indeed, speak to the audience from behind the piano, as Cole Porter, in an affected manner with an English accent (never mind that Porter was American) and very little about the character of Cole Porter to which an audience can warm up. Before any reader of this review makes the wrong assumption, let us be clear: I did not like the play COLE, but I LOVED Michael Griffiths. There is much praise following the next paragraph.
COLE is a theater piece that is lacking... possibly teeth, perhaps spine, maybe balls. It's a conceit that doesn't work because, for all his genius, Cole Porter is a mostly forgotten person in the history of show business, not really an amiable person, and certainly unrelatable. Yes, there are many gay men and women who have lived in the closet and who can relate to that part of Mr. Porter's story, but there is much more to Cole Porter than his sexuality, and it is simply not possible to relate to the character, only to be mildly amused by him, especially since most of Mr. Griffith's script is made up of facts and trivia that is pretty common knowledge. The concept is not new, the script is pretty thin, and the character one dimensional. But the music is gorgeous. Mr. Griffiths plays and sings beautifully, and if he had opted out of the Cole Porter device and come out on stage as Michael Griffiths talking about why he loves Cole Porter's songs, or better yet, what the people of his home country of Australia respond to about Cole Porter, it would have been a most engaging evening. As it is, there reached a point in the proceedings when it all became just a little too flat a line, too precious a performance, too self-conscious an entertainment, and this writer reached the point where he was beginning to wonder how much more there was.
Then a miracle happened.
The play Cole came to an end and Michael Griffiths stood up in front of the piano and explained that he still had some time on The Green Room 42 clock, so he was just going to chat us up and play us some songs. And while Cole Porter was a bit one-note on this night, Michael Griffiths was ALL THE NOTES. Mr. Griffiths is super cute, incredibly funny, and so much fun that if there was a person in the room who didn't want to party with him, there was a person in the room who didn't like to party. Michael Griffiths shucked his velvet jacket, struck a pose and asked if he might have a glass of champagne, and then he talked about the history of the show, life in Australia, how much he loves the band Ah-Ha, and then he did a sing-along of "Take On Me" that had the whole room awake, when they hadn't been, a few minutes earlier. Mr. Griffiths talked about some of the other shows he does and how campy they are and it was almost possible to hear hearts around the room race and mouths begin to salivate. The idea of seeing this surprisingly entertaining man do a night of Madonna songs or Kyle Minogue songs is too much to handle without smelling salts. During the fifteen minutes that the real Michael Griffiths was onstage, this writer became so enamored of the personality, the pop vocals, the energy, the irreverence, and the sense of humor that there was genuine disappointment over not having had HIM up there doing Cole Porter songs for the last 50 minutes! Those last fifteen minutes of the evening were like air being let into a stuffy room, and they were enough to make up for anything I hadn't enjoyed in the play COLE, but there will remain, in the heart of this writer, a wish that Michael Griffiths will come back to New York many times, with his own personality and his own show. If and when he does, I will be the first in line to buy a ticket.
COLE was a one-night-only event with no others scheduled in New York City at this time.
Find great shows to see at The Green Room 42 website
Photos by Stephen Mosher