When asked who wrote “Some Enchanted Evening,” Cole Porter is said to have replied, “Rodgers and Hammerstein, if you can imagine it taking two men to write one song,” a clever way of pointing out that unlike most of his contemporaries (Irving Berlin excluded), Cole Porter did the work of two. Not only that, but he did it better than just about anyone else around, writing both de-loveliest melodies in town and quite possibly the cleverest lyrics ever heard on a Broadway stage. “Birds do it, bees do it. Even educated fleas do it. Let’s do it. Let’s fall in love.” “I get no kick from champagne. Mere alcohol doesn’t thrill me at all. So tell me why should it be true, that I get a kick out of you?” “He may have hair upon his chest but, sister, so has Lassie.” Did anyone do it better than Cole?

Downey Civic Light Opera continues its 2011-2012 season with Marsha Moode’s Cole: The Life And Music Of Cole Porter, and though at nearly three hours its runs a tad longer than perhaps it should, Moode’s blend of fascinating facts and sensational songs makes for an elucidating, entertaining treat.

DCLO favorites William T. Lewis, Charlotte Carpenter, Laura Dickinson, and Robert Standley star as Porter himself, Cole’s wife Linda Lee Thomas, Broadway legend Ethel Merman, and Porter’s college chum Gerald Murphy, the fab foursome getting the lion’s share of the evening’s nearly four dozen songs, all but the earliest of which (“Bulldog, Bulldong, Eli Yale,” “I’m In Love Again”) form part of our collective musical memory.

Standouts among the quartet’s many stellar moments include Carpenter and Lewis’ oh-so romantic “You Do Something To Me” and their delightful “It’s De-lovely,” Dickinson’s sultry “Just One Of Those Things,” and her duet of “All Through The Night” with Standley, whose “What Is This Thing Called Love?” is another Act One highlight.

Cole provides Carpenter, whose legit soprano is as de-lovely as they get, a chance to show off her premium pop pipes in “I Get A Kick Out Of You” and “I Love Paris,” while the divine Dickinson headlines dance numbers like the tap-tastic “Anything Goes” and showstopping “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” choreographed with flair by Nathan Wise, doing a bang-up job throughout.  It’s a treat as well to see real-life spouses Lewis and Carpenter playing opposite each other as Cole and Linda.

Director Moode makes sure that virtually everyone in her all-around topnotch cast of thirty-five gets his or her moment in the spotlight. Aleasha McNeff duets a saucy “Let’s Do It” with Kyle Van Amburgh and gets her own sexy solo with “My Heart Belongs To Daddy.” Karl Schott entertains with “Let’s Misbehave” (backed by dancers Jenny Vaughn Hall and Maggie Hall) and “Be A Clown” (with the similarly clown-garbed Christopher Curry and Arthur D. Johansen by his side). Dance master Johansen duets “Friendship” and with Brittany Rodin, who takes the lead in a sparkling “Always True To You Darlin.” Calista Ruiz provides sensuous dance backup to Dickinson’s seductive “Love For Sale,” while Johansen and Schott knock’em dead with the double-encored “Brush Up Your Shakespeare.” Michael McGreal warbles a witty “Miss Otis Regrets” as the one-and-only Monty Wooley and golden-throated Kit Wilson sings “Begin The Beguine” with dancer Caroline Montes. Mindy and Gabe Copeland earn a half dozen or so spontaneous bursts of applause for their tap-dancing expertise. Katy Tabb’s graceful dance moves accompany Standley’s “Night And Day,” velvet-throated Jonas Edwin Sills solos “So Nice To Come Home To,” and Wilson returns with a gorgeous “I Love You.” Downey favorite William Crisp gets ample opportunity to show off his resonant vocals with “I’m In Love Again” and “Easy To Love.” Kiersten Kanaster, Allison C. McGuire, and Jazmine Ramay get an “Ooh La La!” for their song-and-dance “C’est Magnifique.” Laura Rensing delights in country-western mode with “Don’t Fence Me In,” backed by the production’s terrific male ensemble, which includes dance whizzes Adam Huynh and Danny Marin. The Cole cast is completed splendidly by John Briganti (J.O. Cole), Steven Chavarria, Devon Cornair, Greg Hardash (Sam Edwards), Timothy Hearl, Dee Wilson (Kate Porter), Eric A. Peterson, and Seth Weiner.

In addition to the above songs and performances, Cole fills us in on Porter’s life in the words of such show-biz greats as Irving Berlin (Curry), whose public assessment of Porter’s Fifty Million Frenchmen as “the best musical comedy I’ve heard in years” turned the show from flop to hit. Rodin’s Bella Spewack (pronounced SPĒ-wak) recalls how Cole’s nicknames for her varied according to his mood, while Crisp’s Dr. John Moorehead recalls his patient’s brave struggle with chronic pain following a crippling riding accident. What scarcely gets mentioned is Porter’s homosexuality, referred to only as a “Hollywood lifestyle,” a disservice to the LGBT community, who ought not to have one of our greats once again straightwashed (as Hollywood did in the Porter screen bio Night And Day).

Musical director Jimmy Vann is once again in fine form, conducting the Downey Civic Light Opera orchestra. Jacqui Jones’ vivid lighting design, Jay Lee’s crisp sound design, and Mark Keller’s technical direction merit kudos, with an added burst of applause for the literally hundreds of fabulous costumes designed for Cole by Elizabeth Bowen. Sally Casey Bell is stage manager.

Following a pair of entertaining DCLO musical revues based on the lives and works of Rodgers And Hart and Irving Berlin, Cole proves the best of the bunch, with nary a weak link in its big, talented cast. Broadway lovers are advised to head on over to Downey, where Marsha Moode and company will put you in a red, hot, and Cole mood indeed.

Downey Theatre, 8435 E. Firestone Blvd., Downey.

–Steven Stanley
February 17, 2012

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