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Cole at Kaleidoscope

Cole is an appealing biographical revue of Cole Porter’s songs devised by Benny Green and Alan Strachan in 1974. As a look back at one of the most astonishing songwriting careers in history, the decidedly nostalgic show has long been a mainstay for companies that perform for older audiences whose memories of romance hark back to a more glamorous time.

Up in the Lecture Hall Theatre at Medaille College, Kaleidoscope Theatre Productions has lavished loving attention and detail on their staging of Cole,—arguably to a fault. I suspect that the show was hampered, in part, by its own misplaced ambitions. For a revue that aches for the emphasis to be on song interpretation, consideration here seems to have been focused, instead, on just about everything else—from design elements to choreography. Under the direction of Cindy Ripley, Porter’s brilliant songs (and especially their lyrics) have definitely taken a backseat to relentlessly busy choreography by Jon Yepez.

On the plus side, the energetic company imbues the evening with the irresistible love of performing. Best of all, the show provides an opportunity for a number of young and relatively inexperienced performers.

Bobby Hall, a recent Niagara University graduate steps out of the chorus to perform some of Porter’s most memorable comic numbers. Meghan Attridge, an Eastman School of Music grad, lends her classically trained voice to the evening. Sarah Blewett, a recent graduate of the UB Musical Theater program, last seen in The Who’s Tommy at MusicalFare makes a vivid impression here, in a number of classic Cole Porter tunes. Nathan Andrew Miller, another NU grad, returns to Kaleidoscope, where he appeared previously in Baby.

Beth Gerardi-Wharton and Christian Riso provide an anchor of maturity, particularly on numbers that imply a bit of life experience.

Monica Stankewicz rises from the piano long enough to provide a memorable and sardonically comic performance of “Make it Another Old Fashioned Please,” an Ethel Merman standard from Porter’s 1940 show, Panama Hattie.

While I often wished that performers would stop bouncing around the stage and stand still long enough to give Porter’s lyrics thoughtful expression, Yepez’s choreography and the performances were both strongest on some of the group numbers. It was a pleasure to hear the wry and ribald Sophie Tucker classic, “Most Gentlemen Don’t Like Love,” from Porter’s 1938 hit, Leave it to Me rendered by Gerardi-Wharton, Attridge, and Blewett, who make a likable trio.

It seemed odd that for a show brimming with sultry lyrics, this production never seems quite sexy, as jokey discomfort tends to displace anything that begins to border on the erotic. In Cole Porter’s world, sex is neither embarrassing nor shameful; it’s fun! Love is the emotion that causes trouble. “Brush Up Your Shakespeare,” a number invented for precision that serves as a counterpoint to risqué double entendre, is staged here as reckless mayhem. “You’ve Got That Thing,” “I’m a Gigolo,” “Let’s Misbehave,” and even “The Laziest Gal in Town” are oddly squeaky clean. By the same token, “Love for Sale,” Porter’s stoic anthem to cold resilience, goes in the other direction with an eerily sleazy staging featuring a literal “John” making his way up the stairs after a decidedly mournful rendering of the song.

Despite reservations, how can a show chock-a-block full of songs by Cole Porter go wrong? In addition to those mentioned above, we are treated to a litany of fabulous tunes, performed by an appealing company.

A stylish Art Deco style set by Keith A. Wharton provides a handsome backdrop for the performances. An enormously appreciative audience greeted every number and certainly the curtain call with hearty applause and approval.