Friday, January 12, 2007

Revue comes alive with romance, fun

Published in The News Tribune January 12

What is This Thing Called Love?” at Tacoma Little Theatre is a musical tribute to the great Cole Porter – a heartfelt tribute conceived and created by director and musical director David Duvall, who also wrote all of the arrangements and plays piano in a trio composed of himself, bassist Cary Black and drummer Bruce Simpson.

Duvall has spent more than 30 years in professional theater in Seattle and Tacoma. He received Emmy nominations for Best Original Music for Television for the KING-TV film “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and the KCTS special “Things That Aren’t Here Anymore.”

“Cole Porter has been a passionate love of mine for most of my life,” Duvall writes in his director’s notes. He notes that he grew up listening to recordings of Porter songs by Bobby Short and Ethel Merman and reading Robert Kimball’s book “Cole,” which he says “had a home on my bedstand for all of my junior and senior high years.”

Porter was one of America’s most successful songwriters. His career spanned half a century. “Esmeralda,” his first song to be performed on Broadway, appeared in the musical revue “Hands Up” in 1915. His last major hit was the beautiful ballad “True Love” written for the movie “High Society” starring Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Grace Kelly in 1956. In between those came a string of hit songs including such standards as “Night and Day,” “Just One of Those Things,” “I Love Paris,” “You Do Something to Me,” “Begin the Beguine” “From This Moment On” and the title tune to this revue, “What is This Thing Called Love?” He was noted for haunting melodies, creative rhythms and lyrics that could be insightful and humorous – often ribald, if not downright scandalous for the times.

Porter’s lyrics in this show are all about love, and they envision a 1950s dream world inhabited by glamorous and sophisticated men and women without the slightest hint that the songwriter was gay. Such things were usually only whispered in Porter’s day.

This world is simply and elegantly portrayed in the sets and costumes by David Jerome, which are lavish without being overdone.

There are eight cast members (four constantly revolving couples who compete for one another’s affection). They are Charmee Beauclaire, Karen Carr, Eric Emans, Tim Fobes, Jay Iseli, Betzy Miller, Emilie Rommell and Mark Wenzel. They are all good singers, and at least two of them display terrific acting chops. Those two are Wenzel and Miller. Wenzel, who looks a little bit like a young Fred Astaire, plays a lovable but dorky guy throughout. He is absolutely hilarious when he puts on a pair of Harry Potter glasses and plays the part of a young lover afraid of love in a comical duet with Rommell on the Gilbert-and-Sullivan-inspired “Let’s Not Talk About Love.”

And Miller proves once and for all that a hefty gray-haired woman can be mighty sexy if she takes a mind to. Her shimmy dancing to the tune of “Katie Went to Haiti” is one of the comedic highlights of the evening.

Emans is a swinging crooner in the Bobby Darin tradition who stands out in a number of solos, most notably on “Where is the Life That Late I Led?” And Iseli is better in this role than in any I’ve seen him in.

Both Beauclaire and Carr have beautiful and sultry voices, but on some numbers they are hard to hear (which could have been a problem with the sound system on opening night). The only other complaint I have is that at well over two hours the show is a bit long. They could have easily cut a few songs.

For people who fondly remember the ’40s and ’50s, or for young people with romance in their hearts, an evening out to see “What is This Thing Called Love?” could make for a great date night.

8 p.m. Jan. 12-13and 2 p.m. Jan. 14
Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N. I St., Tacoma
INFORMATION: 253-272-2281

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