A CurtainUp Connecticut Review CAN CAN

Published: Friday, September 7, 2012 7:00 am By: Chesley Plemmons Source: Curtain Up
 Why oh why do I love Paris
Because my love is here

.—Cole Porter
 
Can-Can
Tony Lawson and Glory Crampton
Attending the new production of Cole Porter’s Can-Can at the Westchester Broadway Theatre in Elmsford, New York brought back early memories of my “life” in (at) the theatre.

If you have any doubts as to the importance of a good book in a Broadway musical, let me remind you of this little bit of bright lights history. In 1953, just four years after Porter’s sophisticated, near-perfect musical Kiss Me, Kate opened on Broadway, the composer was back with Can-Can. This corny, lame musical is remembered for its songs and a sensational turn by the relatively new to the footlights Gwen Verdon, but not for its story. In fact, if you think you know Can-Can, it’s probably the 1960 Hollywood version that will come to mind. As with so many transplants from Broadway, Porter’s show in La La Land was massaged from top to bottom. The plot was altered, characters were added and songs from the composer’s other shows and song catalog were added. No, that was not Can-Can.

The book for Kiss Me Kate was by the literary familiar (no pun intended for you insiders) Bella and Samuel Spewack, with a little assist from William Shakespeare. The book for Can-Can was by Abe Burrows, a precursor of the style of Neil Simon and a professional jokester. The plot, something one suspects might have been written on a cocktail napkin and never expanded beyond that, has to do with the introduction of the scandalous “can-can” dance into Parisian night clubs and the subsequent legal battles that prompted.

My own memories of the original Can-Can are time-bending for me. It was the first Broadway musical I saw ON Broadway. I had seen road companies in my youth but this was the real deal. I remember, strangely, considering the seeming importance of the event in my experience, that I didn’t like it very much — except the music. Many of its songs had already made their way to the Hit Parade.

The Westchester Broadway production, remaining true to the original, is a mixed blessing. There are those A-list songs — “I Love Paris,” “It’s All Right With Me,” I Am in Love,” Allez-vous-en” and "C’est Magnifique” — of which nothing further need be said. They’re quintessential Porter and divine.

The show’s leads are Tony Lawson and Glory Crampton, both veteran performers at this theater and possessed of commanding stage presences and strong, romantic voices. He plays a Parisian judge who is out to either expose the dance hall illegalities,