WPCNR Front Row Center. Theatrical Review by John F. Bailey. September 1,2012:
The First Lady of the Westchester Broadway Theatre, Glory Crampton, (Designated Supreme Diva of the House of Stutler and Funking), the international show biz recording artist, united with the ultimate composer of the Broadway stage --Cole Porter last night at WBT’s Opening Night of Can-Can – Porter’s second longest running Broadway Show .
Glory Crampton, statuesque soprano, is a devlish angel as La Mome Pistache, with dashing baritone Tony Lawson as her conquest had the enthusiastic audience thoroughly enthralled in Mr. Porter’s 1890s tribute to the Paris of our dreams. Can-Can opened to 3 minutes of bravos at WBT Friday night Photographs Courtesy Westchester Broadway Theatre by John Vecchiolla
Ms. Crampton’s enchanting all-eyes-on-her stage presence, blends with just-so-right delivery of emotion, feeling and snappy lines, with believable passion with Mr. Lawson (most realistic kisses I have seen on stage in years by both) in the love story of a nightclub owner and a straitlaced judge of the Paris court brings Cole Porter and bookman Abe Burrows’ daffy depiction of the naughty Paris of legend smashingly to life.
No wonder we know our upright judge has no chance. Their improbable love story is made naturally possible, sold, hook, line and heart by the stars’ chemistry. Ms. Crampton’s glorious sultry performance of Porter’s immortal, I love Paris in Act II is not to be missed!
Her wistful, pleasure-with every note lush-soaring-to-the-stars refrain of “I love Paris every moment…every moment of the year” is all that love is! It’s the highlight of a show with many highlights.
Lawson the judge is appalled by the Can-Can the scandalous dance staged nightly in La Mome Pistach’s club, Bal du Paris. When Lawson’s Judge Aristide hears of this nightly affront to law and order, he devises a sting operation to photograph the dancers in flagrante can-can-o.
He visits the Club, meets Glory Crampton as Pistache. Pistache attempts to bribe him, finds herself attracted. Aristide is taken aback and the two sing the seductive and poetically melancholy C’est Magnifique I tell you, this old critic’s ticker started ticking again when the pair sang that one.
The judge observes the versatile ensemble performing the can-can gets his picture and Pistach and her girls are arrested ultimately losing her license. Pistache stages a Garden of Eden ballet ( satirically performed with considerable entwining, lifting, mocking with subtle style the ballet in vogue mid-twentieth century).
The ensemble shows its multi-talents in this conclusion to Act I that is raided by the police. Pistache losing everything sings to Aristide to Allez-vous-en (go away) Aristide however stays on at the ball and is photographed kissing Pistache and he becomes a scandal to the court.
Pistache schemes to get her night club back by running a laundry by day and a dance hall by night secretly but needs money. Aristide bankrolls the operation and he insists in being strictly a business partner, no romance.
The First Act features the hilarious, sophisticated subplot featuring manic Patrick Richwood (left, above) as Boris the sculptor, his artist cronies in Montmarte (the song Montmarte rendered by the company at the top of Act I introduces composer Porter’s send-up of Bohemian Paris), and Boris’ long suffering can-can girl girl-friend, Lauralyn McClelland who plays the role of Claudine that made Gwen Verdon a Broadway star.
After performing the Apache Dance in the original Can-Can in 1953 Gwen Verdon went on to star in Damn Yankees. Ms. McClelland, diminutive compared to Verdon, delivers a different feminine ingenue glow to the role of innocence and threatened damsel.
McClelland holds her own as can-can dancer, and is a clever straight-woman setting up the foolish Boris's antics. Whenever Mr. Richwood’s Boris is in a scene, being silly, manic, and carrying off pratfalls, the audience laughs in spite of itself. Mr. Richwood can brings stuffiest Westchesterite to chuckle, laugh and guffaw.
The Paris cad, Hillaire the Art Critic, is played with "hiss-the-villain" smarmy snobbery by Charles West, (WITH McClelland and Richwood above). He schemes to seduce McClelland by promising to look at Boris’s pathetic sculpture.
West's Come Along With Me (Woof-Woof) is stylishly madcap and the audience loves his mischievous seducer role. Every "woof-woof" brings a laugh!
When Hillaire drops by the Montmarte studio to critique Boris’s sculptures, Boris’s explanation of each very funny work is a mock of artist explanations that entertains the audience with sophisticated rationales that make you laugh out loud – loudly.
Richwood is fantastic funny here, defending his art. Hillaire’s review of the statues appears, a review scathingly funny and satirizes the cruel venom critics love to use. Boris rightly incensed ends up in a duel with Hillaire where Richwood again works the audience into laughter that builds and builds as he gets tangled up in two swords.
Ted Lawson has a fine solo moment in Act I when, stuck in prison after his arrest, he sings with impeccable puzzlement and enthusiasm, I’m In Love. Men, you will recognize how you feel when a woman has you in a spin by the way Mr. Lawson pulls this song off. Lawson last appeared as Barnum at WBT and it is great to have the Derek Jeter of baritone leading men back leading and every bit the romantic and charming equal of Ms. Crampton.
At the end of Act I you’ve got the two lovers in a fix. Well this being a Cole Porter musical, you know Act II is going to make it come out all right with a twist.
Lawson’s Aristide is found hiding out from his judicial inquiry in a Montmarte sidewalk cafe when encountered by a comely lass, he rejects her, still smitten with Ms. Crampton. (I tell you once Glory Crampton gets under your skin, you’d drink in cafes,too.) His dilemma is summed up nicely with his mellow and wistful, It’s All Right With Me, delivered with the accepting helplessness of a man smitten and doomed to a love he cannot get over.
But romantics remember, this is a Cole Porter musical!
Pastiche encounters Aristide and the interloper and shoos her rival away. Aristide proposes simply a business arrangement and Pastiche’s laundry is opened with the can-can playing nightly. He finally cannot stand being away from Pastice and their touching reuniting happens after Crampton wins over all with her I Love Paris for the ages.
Lauralyn McClelland, playing Claudine, Boris’s coveted wife, is featured in a splendid rivival of the Apace Dance— the performance that shocked Broadway and made Gwen Verdon the toast of Broadway. She delivers this aggressive three-man and a woman dance with violence, suppleness,sensuality, intensity that is as it should be the show dance highlight!
McClelland brings it off. The dance in this critic’s opinion would seem to have inspired the violent choreography of the subsequent West Side Story five years later. Can-Can was produced in 1953.Director and Choreographer Richard Stafford got the most out of McClelland in this riveting and surprising dance number with knives and simulated violence. It was a sensation in its time and still is today.
But there is still more. Will Boris survive his duel?
More surprises to come—and the elegant white satin gown Ms.Crampton wears in the final court scene, has her looking so much like a lady. She also sings a put-down of men in Act II—the ladies in the audience were nodding in agreement.
Can-Can rolls out slowly, gains steam, and soars giddly with Porter’s signature great second Act!
The dance ensemble of Bjorn Bolinder, Karolina Blonski, Courtney Chilton, Laura Elizabeth Henning, Chloe Hurst, Darrell T. Joe, Peter Marinos, Kaitlin Niewoener, Elliot Reiland, Tim Roller and Margueritte Willbanks perform the can-can, the Garden of Eden Ballet (with Laura Elizabeth Henning performing temptingly convincing as The Snake).
Stafford direction controls their energy and brings them along slowly, with each number gaining energy, sass, and precision! Stafford’s ballet satire at the end of Act I delivers every cliché ballet move you would expect: garish over-the-top costumes, exaggerated lifts and embraces – very giggle-enducing though performed seriously. Ms. Crampton herself even struts elegantly as a swan-like character, swan that she is! The ensemble kicks the Can-Can out of the theater at the conclusion of Act II and the audience clapped for a good three minutes!
The orchestra is crisp and provides evocative Parisian accordion charm and gay Paree bounce, cachophanous outrageousness and saucy piquancy! Credit to Craig Barna’s musical direction and his musicians, Ken Ross, Drums; Ron Raffio bass; Ron Kozak, reeds; Dave Olson,trumpet; Ja yson Ingram, Trombone;
The set by John Farrell duets with the Minister of Light, Andrew Gmoser, making wonderful use of a painted backdrop of Montmartre that more than any set this year evokes as much as theatre-in-the-round can, the City of Light and seductive Darkness.
Loren Shaw’s costumes are impeccably dazzling from the fantastic satin white gown Ms. Crampton wears in her final court scene, to the rich red of the can-can girls, to Charles West’s cad’s tuxedo. I have to say the costuming at WBT this year has been stellar, effectively recalling these masterpieces of musical theatre.
You definitely want to catch the Can-Can But, it plays the WBT “bistro” only through October 7. Go to www.BroadwayTheatre.com or pick up your golden French antique telephone and dial (914) 592-2222
Can-can paints the Paris of your dreams.