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BWW Review: COLE PORTER IN PARIS at Théâtre Du Châtelet


The City of Lights celebrates one of it's biggest lovers

BWW Review: COLE PORTER IN PARIS at Théâtre Du Châtelet

Cole Porter, the most Francophile of the big five American composers of the American songbook, with Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, George Gershwin, and Richard Rodgers, spent almost a decade in Paris just after World War I immersing himself French language and culture and developing his craft as a composer and lyricist of sophisticated and semi-autographical ditties full of double entendre, trying them out as a dilettante pianist in the party scenes of the roaring 20s not only in Paris but also in Venice, before taking on Broadway by storm the following decade. Celebrating the City of Lights in dozens of songs and entire musicals such as Paris (1928), Fifty Million Frenchmen (1931), and later in his career Can-Can (1953) and Silk Stockings (1955), Cole Porter has always been ignored and almost unknown to the French public except for the jazz connoisseurs who know him mainly as the composer of standards such as "Night and Day" and "I Got You Under My Skin," with none of these musicals ever mounted in Paris, so this Christophe Mirambeau's show this winter at Théâtre du Châtelet is more than a well-deserved and long overdue tribute to the genius of Porter by the city he loved so much, as well as an exploration of his personal life and sexual fantasies.

BWW Review: COLE PORTER IN PARIS at Théâtre Du Châtelet So far, only his masterpiece Kiss Me, Kate (1948) has been adapted into French by the late Alain Marcel, with the late Viviane Van de Maële as choreographer, for Mogador in 1993, later done in English at the Châtelet in 2016, directed by Lee Blakely and choreographed by Nick Winston. The underrated but excellent biographical movie De-lovely (2004) by Irvin Winkler, which dug a lot more into Porter's psyche than the old Cary Grant movie Night and Day (1946), also went unnoticed but could give background information useful to better understand this Cole Porter in Paris, which keeps oscillating between musical revue, jukebox musical, and biography.

BWW Review: COLE PORTER IN PARIS at Théâtre Du Châtelet After recreating the forgotten Revue des ambassadeurs (1928) in 2012, Mirambeau, theater historian as well as director, has done an impressive amount of research for this new show, which includes many rare and early Porter gems such as the self-reflective "I'm a Gigolo" and "Who Said Gay Paree," as well as his single venture into "serious" music he wrote for the Swedish ballet Within the Quota in 1923 at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées. Veteran French musical theater choreographer Caroline Roëlands (Seven Brides for Seven Brothers at Follies Bergères in 1999 and Follies at Opéra de Toulon in 2013) has a field day reimagining this ballet in many dance numbers with a Fosse touch, taking full advantage of a talented dance ensemble with many standouts, notably the vivacious Guillemette Buffet, showing off her singing talents in "Go Into Your Dance" as well, and the versatile Grégory Garell in the risqué "Love For Sale" number. The show really takes off at these moments, especially in "Go Into Your Dance" toward the end, which makes us long for more extensive dance breaks. Instead, we get a classic Chorus Line-type finale to "Take Me Back To Manhattan," which is appropriate but doesn't totally wet our appetite for more full out dancing.

BWW Review: COLE PORTER IN PARIS at Théâtre Du Châtelet After the choreography, the strongest point of the show is the brilliant art nouveau set and costume designs by Casilda Desazars, cleverly skipping the cliché Charleston dress, and climatic lighting by Renaud Corler.

The concept of having three Cole Porters representing different aspects of his personality, sometimes simultaneously on stage, can be confusing at times, especially in the mock striptease "You're the Top" number, even if all three of the actors, Yoni Amar (Beauty and the Beast, Mogador 2013), Richard Delestre (Paris Chéri(es), Théâtre Trévise 2018), and Matthieu Michard (Siegfried et l'anneau maudit, 2013 Opéra Bastille) are equally competent singers and actors, as well as pianist for Michard. As porter's wife and muse Linda, Marion Tassou has a slightly too operatic delivery of perhaps Porter's most touching Paris anthem, "You Don't Know Paree." The excellent Léovanie Raud registers more the jazzier aspects of the Porter vernacular, and the indomitable drag artist Charlène Duval has a spirited turn with "I'm Unlucky at Gambling," but the inclusion of Gershwin's "The Man I Love," leading into a full dance number, is clearly out of place here, as many Porter ballads would have fit the bill!

BWW Review: COLE PORTER IN PARIS at Théâtre Du Châtelet The musical arrangements are always fresh and the presence onstage of the 13-piece orchestra of Les Frivolités Parisiennes adds onto a highly pleasurable trip down memory lane in this mythical Paris of the 20s, even if the music drowns out the singer's voices sometimes, unfortunately making the audience have to read the English subtitles to fully understand the intelligence of Porter's witty lyrics. Nevertheless, this highly entertaining as well as informative show, clearly a labor of love from Mirambeau, is a perfect antidote to these grim and uncertain times. Hoping too many people won't miss it due to Covid-related performance cancelations, which will make a revival a necessity! In the meantime, an abridged version is scheduled for January 30th at Maison Alfort to followed by a performance in La Rochelle on May 31st and a run in Montpellier.

BWW Review: COLE PORTER IN PARIS at Théâtre Du Châtelet

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