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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review

Money spent on pleasure is never a wasted — Pistache

Kate Baldwin and Cast
There are innumerable musical comedies from Broadway's golden age that could be improved by a new book, a more essential element these days than it was once. Except for the Rodgers and Hammerstein canon of classic musical plays whose books have remained virtually intact, the memorable songs contributed by the earlier team of Rodgers and Hart, the brothers Gershwin, plus those by Irving Berlin, and Cole Porter (to name just a few of the greats) in their mostly forgotten shows have been largely disassociated from their source.

That is why this commendable collaboration by Joel Fields and David Lee (who also directed) is as welcome as it is rewarding. They have given a more cohesive and even more comedic core to Porter's 1953 Can-Can . It still doesn't make much sense, but I seriously doubt you will find room for complaint after seeing it. Without completely aborting the original book by Abe Burrows, they have added just a little more weight and substance to the plot. It has been done without diminishing the fun and the froth that frames this giddily romantic romp around Paris in the 1890s.

A terrific cast headed by Kate Baldwin, Michael Berresse amd Jason Danieley, plus gorgeous costumes designed by Ann Hould-Ward, stunning settings by Rob Bissinger and lots of robust choreography by Patti Colombo contribute to an effervescent entertainment. The laughs begin early as we notice that the conductor is leading a pit band comprised solely of cardboard cartoon-figures. The original overture has been exchanged for a very clever riff on all overtures, a reason to start laughing. And a cut-out of Toulouse Lautrec peering down from a balcony box within the Bal du Paradis, "a dance hall in the "red light district."

The real musicians are then exposed on a perch high above the floor of the cafe where the smiling conductor Steve Orich has made his way in an instant from the pit to the perch. It's all frenzied fun from here onward.

Following a preliminary shakedown at the Pasadena Playhouse, Can-Can has arrived at the Paper Mill Playhouse for a little more polishing and tightening (still sorely needed especially in Act II) prior to a proposed move to Broadway. Autumn has arrived for us here, but spring is decidedly in the air for Porter ("I Love Paris in the Springtime...") and for the those who want to follow this master melodist back to the gaudy and gay (in the original sense of the word) milieu of the Belle Epoque and indulge in some its naughtier delights. Keeping it naughty but also nice is quite a feat, but it is done with considerable wit and flair to make as much of the plot as comical as possible — and without forgetting to be sexy at the same time.

As it was then and remains now, Can-Can revolves around the legal tumult created by that promiscuous dance. It is well served by choreographer Columbo who keeps both the ladies and gentlemen of the chorus flipping through its increasingly arduous variations. She puts a spoofy spin on an Apache Dance and gives a sprightly charm to a charming divertissement (danced to "If You Loved Me Truly") with dancers as marionettes on strings. The latter dance essentially replacing "The Garden of Eden" ballet that helped to catapult Gwen Verdon to stardom in the supporting role of Claudine. Megan Sikora is a delight as Claudine, the dancing seamstress.

Except for the exciting dancing, and the large dollups of comedic shtick supplied by a terrific supporting cast, your eyes will be on Baldwin, who simply dazzles us as La Mome Pistache/proprietor/chanteuse of the infamous Montmartre cafe Bal du Paradis. Looking ravishing in an array of gowns, Baldwin plays a tough cookie, and is terrific. Her singing comes close to shattering the cafe's glass domed ceiling early. But it is when she stands alone on the rooftop of the cafe singing "I Love Paris" that we thrill to the kind of impassioned singing that marks her voice even later with that other Porter treasure "C'est Magnifique."

There is the essential havoc and mayhem created by the introduction of the shocking Can-Can in Paris, and the conflict of a reignited love affair between Pistache and a judge and former lover Aristide, played by a splendid Jason Danieley. Other lilting and lovely songs include "Live and Let Live," "Alley-Vous En," "It's All Right With Me," plus a dozen more that do not need revising in any way.

he Can-Can is now prominently danced in Act I and not in Act II as it was originally; also that "Who Said Gay Paree?" which was dropped before the show opened on Broadway been reinserted. This rapturous melody serves as a musical highlight for Danieley, whose resounding tenor also gives a lift to very funny ensemble number "Never, Never Be An Artist," he shares with Greg Hildreth, Mark Price, and Justin Robertson.

There has to be a villain and he is Hilaire, a suave and smarmy art critic played with snide panache by Berresse. His power with the pen is matched by his prowess with a sword in an extended rooftop duel with Danieley. It's funny for a while but goes on much too long. We don't get enough, however, of Michael Kostroff , whose beautifully droll performance as the headwaiter and Pistache's confidant Jean-Louis is perfectly in synch with the exuberant drollery that is the heart of Cole's final valentine to Paris. A silly game tacked on to the finale in which the audience is asked to shout out names that rhyme with Can-Can involves the entire company and is loads of fun —as is this production.

It should be noted that Abe Burrows did his own revisions for a revival that opened on Broadway in 1981 but survived only four days. I have a feeling that a kinder reception will greet this production.

Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter
Book by Abe Burrows
Revised by Joe Fields & David Lee
Directed by David Lee

Cast: (Principals) Michael Kostroff (Jean Louis), Kate Baldwin (La Mome Pistache), Megan Sikora (Claudine), Greg Hildreth (Boris), Mark Price (Hercule), Justin Robertson (Etienne), Jason Danieley (Judge Aristide Forestier), Michael Berresse (Hilaire Jussac)
Scenic Design: Rob Bissinger
Costume Design: Ann hould-Ward
Lighting Design: Michael Gilliam
Sound Design: Randy Hansen Production Stage Manager:Gary Mickelson
Arrangements, Orchestrations & Music Direction: Steve Orich
Choreography: Patti Colombo
Running Time: 2 hours 30 minutes including intermission
Paper Mill Playhouse, Brookside Drive, Millburn, NJ
973 - 376 - 4343
Tickets: $28.00 - $99.00
Performances: Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 7 pm; with matinees on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at 1:30 pm.
From 10/01/14 Opened 10/05/14 Ends 10/26/14
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 10/05/14
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