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(Photo by Aileen Nielsen)

"TOO DARN HOT": The cast of "Hot 'n Cole - A Cole Porter Celebration" struts and sings at the gym in this revue of the music and lyrics of Cole Porter, playing weekends through December 4 at the Off-Broadstreet Theatre in Hopewell. Pictured left to right are Marieke Georgiadis, Geoff Barber, Peggy Waldron, Bill Bunting, Timothy Walton and Heather Diaforli.

Hopewell's Off-Broadstreet Theatre Presents "Hot 'n Cole"; High-Spirited Ensemble Delivers 45 Cole Porter Favorites

Don Gilpin

"Birds do it. Bees do it. Even educated fleas do it. Let's do it. Let's fall in love." Was there ever a more witty, captivating, stylish, scintillating, whimsical and sophisticated master of musical comedy than Cole Porter?

Mr. Porter emerged from the world of expatriate Paris after World War I, continued to live the life of the Roaring Twenties long after the decade had ended, and produced a body of work – from Paris (1928) and Fifty Million Frenchmen (1929) to Anything Goes (1934), Kiss Me Kate (1948) and dozens more hit Broadway shows and movie musicals. "Anything goes" – in life as in art – for this towering figure of American musical theater. Hot 'n Cole – A Cole Porter Celebration, a musical revue created in 1992 by David Armstrong, Mark Waldrop and Bruce W. Coyle and currently playing at Off-Broadstreet Theatre in Hopewell under the skillful direction of Robert Thick, delivers many of Porter's greatest hits – 45 numbers in all – to provide a thoroughly entertaining evening.

Mr. Thick's experienced and talented ensemble of three men and three women, with expert piano accompaniment from musical director Ken Howard and Tara Shingle Buzash, presents this array of musical and verbal riches with energy, luminous clarity, and a goodly portion of the kind of sophistication, joy and cleverness that so vividly characterize Mr. Porter's life and work.

This revue may disappoint some purists who want their Cole Porter in context. Indeed, several of the numbers, presented here only in medleys or fragmentary form, will leave you longing for more. You'll miss the full production numbers and the character and plot development that help make Anything Goes and Kiss Me Kate, for example, two of the American musical theater's greatest creations.

What audiences get instead in this engaging revue is an original perspective on many of these classic numbers, many in new arrangements with unfamiliar harmonies, all in a new context, with many pairings revealing previously unnoticed nuances and meanings in the lyrics and the relationships between characters.

Timothy E. Walton, for example, performs Let's Do It (from Paris, 1928), quoted in the first line above, as a charmingly hilarious counterpoint courtship duet; Heather Diaforli retorts with Let's Not Talk About Love (from Let's Face It, 1941). In another second act, song-series crowd-pleaser, Bill Bunting's rendition of Rosalie (from Rosalie, 1937) as a romantic reverie prompts Peggy Waldron's feisty Why Can't You Behave (from Kiss Me Kate) and Mr. Bunting then responds with Don't Fence Me In (from Hollywood Canteen, 1944) – all to devastatingly comical and harmonious vocal effect.

Geoff Barber and Marieke Georgiadis, the third couple of this consistently first-rate, deftly rehearsed ensemble, follow up with a bristling exchange, featuring his self-absorbed Without Love (from Silk Stockings, 1955), which she wastes no time in cutting off with I Hate Men (Kiss Me Kate again), of which she needs only one verse, punctuated by a quick slap, to express her opinion, "He may have hair upon his chest, but sister so has Lassie."

Reflecting Mr. Porter's rich and multi-faceted body of work, Hot 'n Cole is infused with humor and abundant variations in tone – from the utterly whimsical and the ebullient through all shades of the romantic, infatuated to steamy to cynical.

Mr. Thick, now into his third decade at the helm of the Off-Broadstreet Theatre, directs with his usual mastery. His unit set – with two pianos facing each other at center stage, a raised playing area under a proscenium arch upstage, and lower platforms and entrances at stages right and left – serves the production admirably.

The charismatic performers, melded into a finely tuned ensemble, create a strong rapport with the audience from the outset, with several memorable forays into the audience providing dramatic and comical highlights throughout the evening. The numbers flow smoothly and swiftly, with just the right touch of adept choreography by Julie Thick to keep things lively and interesting. Costumes by Patricia A. Hibbert, ranging from the most unpretentious and casual to the most dazzling and formal, effectively assist in the creation of certain numbers and key moments in the production.

Consummate showman and entertainer, in his career and in his life, Cole Porter and his songs are well known to many who have enjoyed numerous recordings and revivals of the most popular numbers, musicals and movies, as well as the recent screen biography De-Lovely, starring Kevin Kline, and the 1946 Cary Grant version, Night and Day. Forty years after his death, Mr. Porter's music and lyrics live on in American culture. There is much familiar material here, much that is less familiar and much that takes on a new, vibrant life in this polished and appealing production.

Hot n' Cole – A Cole Porter Celebration will play through December 4, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 2:30 p.m. on Sundays. For reservations and further information call (609) 466-2766.


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