BWW Review: HIGH SOCIETY at SBCC Theatre Group
The SBCC Theatre Group's summer musical, High Society (book by Arthur Kopit, Music and lyrics by Cole Porter), is a show so light and frothy it verges on glib. Detailing the comic spectacle of a wealthy woman's extravagant wedding celebration, High Society, directed by R. Michael Gros, is essentially a vehicle for Cole Porter's music, emphasizing a lighthearted vintage panache. Based on a long line of source material, including the play and film The Philadelphia Story and the film version of High Society, SBCC's production is a pleasant musical meander without a steep narrative incline.
Like a celebrity Instagram highlight reel, High Society showcases all the chic aspects of a society wedding without any of the pitfalls of true characterization. Katherine Bottoms stars as stylish divorcée, Tracy Lord, who flounces through the lavish preparations for her impending nuptials to up-and-coming coalmine manager, George Kittredge (Alex Coleman). Other family present includes drunken Uncle Willie (Sean Jackson), Tracy's precocious younger sister, Dinah (Claire Perales-Duckworth), and Tracy's mother (Deborah Bertling). Hackles rise when the Lords' neighbor (and Tracy's erstwhile husband), Dexter (Darren Bluestone) arrives at the estate and casually lets it slip that he's invited a pair of reporters to the wedding--they plan to cover the wedding rather than running an exposé on Lord patriarch, Seth's (Gregg W. Hart), rather embarrassing affair with a dancer. In a show of mutiny against Dexter's wrench-in-the-works, the Lord sisters put on over-the-top characterizations of themselves for the reporters, Liz (Marisol Miller-Wave) and Mike (Pacomio Sun).
The Lords throw a party for their daughter and her rather prim fiancé. George gets huffy when Tracy imbibes in champagne and begins behaving, as he concludes, in a manner too lacking in restraint for his taste. Tracy gets drunk and canoodles with smitten Mike, which infuriates Liz, who's been languishing in the friend zone. In the morning, Tracy and George break off the engagement amicably, leaving the most humiliating of problems: what to do with all the guests who came expecting a extravagant society affair? Mike eagerly offers to step in as the groom, but Tracy decides to remarry Dexter instead. Rich and reckless, sure, but it's not a story with deep roots in emotional realism. High Society is essentially a Cole Porter concert with staging and costuming.
And while the farcical nature of the characters and situations prevents any character action from being taken too seriously, there are some questionable moments, such as Uncle Willie's proclivity for sexual harassment. Willie sets his (tipsy) sights on Liz, who's needlessly coy about escaping his clutches. This isn't a directorial or a performance choice--there's an entire song dedicated to Liz attempting to dodge Willie's unwanted advances. This line of humor might have worked as commentary on women's roles pre-fem-lib, but this version of High Society was written in 1998, and it doesn't read as satire when the rest of the production is played earnestly. Instead, the audience is left with an awkward 3-minute (singing) joke about lecherous skirt chasing.
While concepts in High Society may have been viewed as "kitschy" when the play premiered two decades ago, in the age of Instagram stars and The Real Housewives, these characters--who are charming in their relative innocence as compared to the shameless celebrities of the information age (even our president is a faux-lebrity real estate mogul-turned-reality show host)--seem tame. High Society is a pleasant enough way to spend an evening, but it doesn't really go anywhere. There are no risks, no extraordinary thrills: just a very safe presentation of feel-good music from a bygone era.
The SBCC Theatre Group Presents:
Directed by R. Michael Gros
July 14-29, @ The Garvin Theatre