BWW Reviews: Revised CAN-CAN Is Charmingly Fizzy
It's one of the great legends of Broadway. They say that on the 1953 opening night of Cole Porter and Abe Burrows' feisty musical comedy, Can-Can, a young unknown dancer named Gwen Verdon received such an enthused and sustained ovation after being featured in Michael Kidd's "Garden of Eden" ballet, that they had to drag her out of her dressing room, where she was already getting into her next costume, and throw her back on stage to take a bow.
Unfortunately, that ballet doesn't appear in Joel Fields and David Lee's substantially revised version of Can-Can, now mounted with lots of charm and humor at the Paper Mill Playhouse. Unfortunate because Megan Sikora, a talented triple-threat, is playing the Verdon role and Patti Colombo, the most exciting musical theatre choreographer around, stages the dances. But for those with little concern about keeping our older musicals as the authors wrote them, the fizzy concoction should provide an enjoyable evening.
The story of a shaky romance between an 1890s Parisian dance hall owner and the judge who feels obligated to shut down her establishment for public obscenity if she persists in featuring leggy showgirls performing that scandalous title dance, Can-Can, as originally written, is a fine enough entertainment that's a bit flimsy on the dramatic side, mostly because by the second act Cole Porter's clever songs seem to lose interest in having anything to do with the plot. The score's two classic hits, "It's All Right With Me" and "I Love Paris," have to be crowbarred into the proceedings. (Another standard, the first act's "C'est Magnifique," is perfectly placed and very effective.)
Bookwriters Fields and Lee (who also directs), try and resolve the musical's flaws by expanding on the relationship of the main romantic pair and coming up with plot-oriented contexts for some of the songs. The results are mixed, and sometimes fight against the material's inclination to simply showcase its stars.
Despite the absence of the musical's primary dance scene, Colombo nevertheless impresses with her takes on Apache dancing, the quadrille and, of course, the Can-Can; ravishingly performed to the show's title tune in a sequence that builds to intoxicating joyousness.
Kate Baldwin, whom New Yorkers are accostumed to seeing in sweet soprano roles, gets a chance to show her saucy side as the proprietess and dance hall hostess, although her wholesomeness tends to get in the way when the character needs to get naughty. Jason Danieley provides the comical and vocal highlights of the evening as the lovesick judge torn between his duty to uphold the law and his passion for an old flame. His rich and robust performance of "I Am In Love" includes a thrilling climax.
There are fine comical supporting turns by Sikora, who leads the sparkling ensemble of high-kickers in frilly underthings, Greg Hildreth as the perpetually broke avant-garde sculptor and Michael Berresse as the sleazy and erudite art critic.
An amusing bit at the end of intermission has actor Michael Kostroff asking audience members for words that rhyme with "can" to be used the finale reprise of Porter's title song. Come prepared.