THE AMBASSADOR REVUE – AND MORE!
Of course you know ANYTHING GOES and KISS ME, KATE. You probably know CAN-CAN, SILK STOCKINGS, OUT OF THIS WORLD and perhaps MEXICAN HAYRIDE as well. And while you would know plenty more Cole Porter scores had original Broadway cast albums been made in the ‘20s and ‘30s, you probably still would have never heard LA REVUE DES AMBASSADEURS.
It played in Porter’s favorite city (Paris, natch) in 1928 but never came here; back then, Porter on Broadway wasn’t yet the bankable household name that he would become in the next decade. What’s more, LA REVUE DES AMBASSADEURS wasn’t a genuine musical comedy, but a night club revue specifically written for Paris’ newest hot spot: Les Ambassadeurs.
We’ll see it now, albeit not in a nightclub but at Town Hall, when my buddy Ken Bloom directs a concert presentation of the hit that Paris saw two years ago – albeit now he’s retitled it THE AMBASSADOR REVUE.
“You’ll get to hear a Cole Porter score that’s never been performed in the United States with the just-discovered original orchestrations played by Vince Giordano,” says Bloom. “We’ll have an orchestra of 20 that includes Vince’s Nighthawks. Amy Burton, Anita Gillette, Jason Graae, Catherine Russell and Tom Wopat will sing and be backed up by four dancers choreographed by Randy Skinner.”
Burton, mostly known as an opera singer, actually sowed the seeds. She called Bloom for opinions on Porter material that she wanted to do for a cabaret act. “We happened upon ‘Pilot Me,’ which came from the show,” he says, “and it sparked our curiosity.”
Bloom found that every word for LA REVUE DES AMBASSADEURS was in Robert Kimball’s THE COMPLETE LYRICS OF COLE PORTER, but couldn’t find much music. “So,” he says. “I called Christopher Mirambeau, who knows everything about French musicals and works for Universal Music, to see what he knew.”
Mirambeau didn’t know much initially, but he found a happy coincidence: Universal, after a multitude of mergers, had title to the material. Because the company’s archives were stored in Milan, he made a long-distance call that in short order resulted in finding some of the music.
“There was enough there to get the French government to fund a concert,” says Bloom, before pointedly adding, “There there’s money for culture.”
He does, however, give immense credit to The Town Hall for offering to produce it here. Could even more music be found? Bloom suddenly remembered that Fred Waring, the orchestra leader of yore, had been originally involved with the French production. So he called Penn State, where Waring’s papers are stored. “I was told they didn’t have anything, but when Vince Giordano decided to try them, the music for four additional songs was found plus a melody originally slated for the show but unused.”
There’s a nice if-at-first-you-don’t-succeed message here that’s in keeping with Porter’s career. “This show was Porter’s first real success as a composer-lyricist,” says Bloom. “It paved the way for him to write PARIS, his first real hit, which was of course followed by many others. Now New York gets to see his first official success.”
THE AMBASSADOR REVUE plays Friday, June 27 at 8 p.m. at Town Hall, 123 West 43rd St., New York City. Tickets are $50-$65. Call 800-982-2787 or visit www.TheTownHall.org.
We’ve heard plenty of pre-show announcements that demand we respectively turn off phones, not take pictures and unwrap candies. If there were an Obie for such diatribes, Jim Dale would easily win for singing an original pre-show song for JUST JIM DALE. As a result, even before Dale comes on for his solo show, the theatergoers who weren’t that well-acquainted with him are now in love with him.
Most of us already had that love squarely in place from having seen Dale take over as Bill in ME AND MY GIRL and/or from his award-winning stints in BARNUM, THE THREEPENNY OPERA and SCAPINO.
(An editorial: For the last-named hit, Dale mentions that he’d received “raves from all 47 critics.” Yeah, there was more theater coverage in those days, when the best seats to a Broadway play were $11 to $13; an inflation calculator tells you they should now be $48 to $57. They are not, so today all those priced-out people have decided to ignore Broadway and not read about it, just as they wouldn’t read a caviar column. Hence, no need for much coverage. We are less and less a society that likes to live vicariously.)
Dale says that as a lad he desperately wanted to do impersonations, but wasn’t much good at them. Apparently he made a spectacular recovery, for he provided the voices for 134 characters on all those HARRY POTTER audiobooks. In this 100-minute presentation (under the keen eye of Richard Maltby, Jr.), Dale also sings songs that were originally released on records that spun at 78 r.p.m.; he, at 78, can still spin, not to mention sing, dance and engage with the best of them.
Nevertheless, the finest sequence is the surprising inclusion and Dale’s expert delivery of the final scene from FUMED OAK, Noel Coward’s 1936 one-act play. Every husband and wife should see it, especially the unhappy ones; they might find a just-in-time solution to their problems and remain married.
Although pianist Mark York has heard every punchline for weeks, he’s an excellent Ed McMahon who laughs at Dale’s every one. He’s expert at playing that not-easy vamp to the Oscar-nominated theme from “Georgy Girl,” which gets a delighted coo of recognition, for most theatergoers didn’t know that Dale had provided its lyrics.
(Another editorial: It’s the song that Clive Barnes of the Times said he missed when the musical version of the tale – simply called GEORGY – opened at the Winter Garden in 1970. If the musical were to be produced today, of course, it would be included in the score and repeated more than once.)
Opting for a completely original score for their musical FLY BY NIGHT are Will Connolly, Michael Mitnick and Kim Rosenstock. When you say your prayers tonight, beg whatever God to whom you pray to keep these three people writing together. Their next show is going to be magnificent.
FLY BY NIGHT isn’t totally successful. It’s much too long, involves an unnecessary narrator (weakly played by Henry Stram) and has a much-too-namby-pamby main character in Harold, who has no particular ambition. Given what the triumvirate wrote, one can’t really blame Carolyn Cantor for casting the slacker-faced Adam Chanler-Berat. He, however, exacerbates the problem, for no one today on any New York stage has the look of a born loser more than he. And we’re supposed to believe that not one but two women will fall in love with him?
Much more compelling is Daphne (winningly portrayed by Patti Murin), who comes to New York from South Dakota with her reluctant sister Miriam (the equally wonderful Allison Case), who was happy to stay in their small town as a perky waitress. Some of us belong to the stars, including Miriam, who liked spending her nights looking up into the vast Midwestern sky. Would the writers make something of her disappointment when in New York, where stars aren’t easily as watchable? Indeed they did.
Daphne’s here to become a Broadway star, but considering that the authors have set their show in the early ‘60s, her want-song should sound like Styne or Strouse, not pop-rock. Daphne reads play after play and cries out, “There are so many wonderful roles for women!” My, did that make the savvy Playwrights Horizons’ audience laugh.
(Yet another editorial: When I emceed the Theatre World Awards last week, I said, “This year, 122 men and 66 women were eligible. Yes, there were almost twice as many eligible men than eligible women -- just like the city’s dating pool.”)
Harold makes half-hearted attempts to be a folksinger. When he plays his song at an open-mike club, he makes his audience – meaning us – sing “La-da-da-da-DA-da” along with him. Such a ploy is always annoying, but here’s a case where it’s genuinely necessary and justifies itself later.
He later sings it for Miriam, and when she doesn’t immediately respond to its tortoise imagery, he explains that it’s metaphorical. “Of course I got the metaphor,” Miriam tells him. “It’s really obvious.” The plot of this new musical initially seems to be as well, but Connolly, Mitnick and Rosenstock have many a delicious surprise up their sleeves and in their brains.
The show starts on a certain November date, on which Harold’s mother dies. Still yet another editorial to the three authors: remember the line in ASSASSINS that has John Wilkes Booth predicting how the suicidal Lee Harvey Oswald envisions his funeral: “A gentle rain is falling. Everyone has umbrellas.” It IS a cliché, friends, and you shouldn’t have opted for it.
The show ends precisely a year later on the same date. If I told you the day and year, you might well have realized what had happened on the latter date – well, if you’re as date-retentive as I and if you’d lived through the event as I did. However, even with that foreknowledge, the repercussions that the authors dreamed up for the infamous day are quite surprising, innovative and very skillfully set up. But a little more care, writers: you have included some anachronisms, such as the word “nerd” -- try “nebbish” -- and pantyhose which Miriam is accused of wearing when, in fact, she’s clearly wearing conventional men’s socks.
The music is wonderfully melodious and lyrics pointedly intelligent and in character. This is a cast album that will rule every electronic device I have for a solid month or two. Peter Friedman has a song so moving that between the orchestra’s button and the enthusiastic applause I heard a loud sniff come from a spectator. Michael McCormick, as Harold’s long-suffering boss, has a song called “Mayonnaise, Meat, Cheese and Lettuce” that, with a little work, could be a fast-food commercial.
And with a little work and tightening, FLY BY NIGHT might have the same success as NEXT TO NORMAL – which didn’t give up after its off-Broadway run. And look what happened there.
Some say the first-ever musical was Shakespeare’s TWELFTH NIGHT, for it contains six songs. There are many more in Three Day Hangover’s TWELFTH NIGHT, OR SIR TOBY BELCH’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB CABARET – and you can perform some of them if you write your name on a slip, place it in a bucket and find it called. But you’d better know the lyrics to such pop hits as “(What Does) The Fox (Say?)”
We’re upstairs at McGee’s Pub on West 55th, where that time-honored bar game “Drink every time a bell goes off” is in effect. Maybe the show should be called TWELFTH NIGHT, OR WHAT YOU WELL DRINKS.
Feste is played by Matt Bradley in drag, who’s kept his armpits unshaved to show us that he’s REALLY not “one of them” but A Real Man. Laura Gragtmans is lovely as Viola and the Malvolio of Nathan Crocker shows a true actor among amateurs.
Beth Gardiner directed her contemporized script, so Malvolio will now wear yellow hi-top sneakers and tube socks instead of crossed garters. You’ll only occasionally hear an original line intact, but such expressions as “You were coming out of the children’s hospital” pervade the action along with such anachronisms as cellphone and tampon. The audience had a wonderful time.
— Peter Filichia