Tuesday 3 April 2007

Review of Can-Can

Cole Porter's musical Can-Can was written with a book by Abe Burrows (author of the books for Guys and Dolls and Silk Stockings). The original intention had been to write a piece about La Goulue, the can-can dancer who was one of Toulouse Lautrec's favourite subjects. But somewhere along the way, things changed. The setting remained 19th century France, but involved a young uptight judge, Aristide Forestier, getting involved with the owner of a can-can establishment, La Mome Pistache. On one level the plot is the expected frothy mix of can-can dancers and struggling artists. But the plot also involves the judge's crusade to get a fair trial for the dancers when prosecuted under obscenity laws. This takes on greater resonance when you learn that the piece was written in the USA at the height of McCarthyism.

La Mome Pistache is a financially savvy figure, who is not without hard edges – she is canny but still appealing. She makes an interesting contrast with the uptight, naïve Aristide. The show concludes with the proper trial which Aristide has been looking for, and the finale is Pistache's girls demonstrating the can-can to the judge. Despite the happy ending we are left wondering what the future holds for Aristide and Pistache.

The show was presented by Ian Marshal Fisher's Lost Musicals. The presentation involved the cast in evening dress, singing from scores, no set and a basic, but imaginative staging (directed by Ian Marshall Fisher).

There was just a piano accompaniment, but the singers are unamplified which is a great advantage. The 14 actors were very hard-working with some playing multiple roles and all participating in the chorus and ensemble scenes.

Aristide and Pistache get the majority of the songs. Pistache was played by Valerie Cutko, a tall elegant figure with a stylish dancer's carriage. She has a low-ish, husky singing voice, it did not always quite fill out Cole Porter's vocal lines but she was undoubtedly expressive and characterful. Her delivery of the show's best known number, “C'est magnifique” was masterly and she spun the vocal line out on a thread.

Christopher Dickens was impressive as the naïve young judge. His singing voice is attractive. The role sounded as if it might have not been in his ideal range, I would have like to have heard more of him. He gets just 2 solos, but one of those is “Its Alright with Me”.

The remaining cast were wonderful, creating a gallery of vivid characters. There was certainly no feeling of being short-changed because this was not fully staged. James Vaughan and Stewart Permutt (both Lost Musicals regulars) were hilarious as the Bulgarian artist, Bruno, and the French art critic, Hilaire. Their feud, leading to a hilarious duel, formed the principal sub-plot.

The score has 4 extremely strong, well-known songs in it (“C'est Magnifique”, “Its Alright with me”, “I love Paris” and “Can-can”) but the remaining ones were rather more variable and a couple of times you thought that Cole Porter might have been on auto-pilot. But the over-all effect was most enjoyable and a little thought-provoking, which is perhaps what was intended.

After listening to this superb performance we came out humming the tunes and longing to see a full staging, complete with can-can.

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