FLASH SPECIAL: We Can CAN-CAN Again! A Parisian Cole Porter Celebration
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by Pat Cerasaro
With news coming late last week of a revised and reworked edition of the Cole Porter/Abe Burrows Golden Age musical CAN-CAN aiming for a reading in October and the possibility of a potential major revival production thereafter, now seems like a tres bien moment in time to glance back at the underappreciated charms of this alluring, Paris-set show. Plus, from Gwen Verdon, Patti LuPone, Eartha Kitt, Shirley MacLaine and Chita Rivera to Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Kelly Clarkson, MAD MEN's Christina Hendricks and many more, this clip collection has more than just an errant bright bulb or two to add to the already magnificent and romantic sights and sounds of the city of lights as conjured up by Porter and company.
Premiering in 1953, directed by bookwriter Burrows and originally featuring then-up-and-coming major musical theatre royalty in the form of relative newcomer Gwen Verdon, CAN-CAN was a smash hit, running more than two years (nearly 900 performances) on Broadway and spawning a West End production, netting Tony Awards for Verdon (as Best Featured Actress In A Musical) and choreographer Michael Kidd. In 1960, Walter Lang directed a hit feature film adaptation of the property starring Shirley MacLaine, Frank Sinatra, Louis Jourdan, Maurice Chevalier and Juliet Prowse, and, though it only ported over a handful of songs from the score, it managed to be the second most lucrative movie of that year. Alas, the bubbly and baudy musical about the can-can girls, courtesans and other conspirators at a Moulin Rouge-esque nightclub called Montmartre has languished in relative obscurity for most of the sixty years since.
The years have not been especially kind to the slightly creaky original book and somewhat sketchy cast of characters within CAN-CAN, so, as a result, Broadway babies commonly see it as a success d'estime - besides the woe begotten 1960 film version (misguided at least insofar as its relation to the original stage property is concerned), the 1981 first Broadway revival production starring Zizi Jeanmaire was a fast flop (lasting less than a week) and many subsequent revivals and reappraisals have failed to make much of an impact, as well. A CHORUS LINE Tony Award-winner Donna McKechnie and iconic musical theatre diva Chita Rivera both had modest success with revivals in the 1980s, as did PHANTOM OF THE OPERA standout Judy Kaye in a production mounted at The Muny in 1983, but it was not until the 2004 Encores! presentation that the show seemed truly viable again for a modern audience - and that was largely due to the impressive turn in it by none other than legendary leading lady Patti LuPone, who made "I Love Paris" into a powerhouse theatrical showstopper as it never quite was before in any other performance of it, as utterly glorious as the song itself may be, before or since. One thing Cole Porter scores always afford actors with is the opportunity to really sell a song and make it land and really count, and, when coupled with a titanic talent like many of the ladies listed above, the result can be positively combustible. Look no further than LuPone's "I Love Paris" for proof in the pudding of that fact - or, should I say, souffle.
Yet, is the world ready - and, furthermore, is Broadway prepared - to give itself over to the myriad majesties hidden away in this endearingly romantic musical comedy? With this week's news of a new book having been commissioned and new reading spearheaded by the heirs to Burrows estate themselves, we may now ask ourselves who the ideal cast would be for the grand return of a classic musical by one of Broadway's best, Cole Porter, and what - if any - cut songs or other Porter gems should or could find their way into the already impressive original score as it exists. From "I Love Paris" to "C'est Magnifique" to "C'est Si Bon" and "It's Alright With Me", this songstack has more than its fair share of requisite Porterian sophistication and appeal. C'est si tres bon!
Christina Hendricks dons an accordion to perform "C'est Magnifique" in one of the most memorable scenes from Season Three of AMC's Emmy Award-winning period drama MAD MEN.
As a special bonus, enjoy this recreation of one of Porter's other Paris-themed muiscals, 1928's PARIS, as seen in the 2004 biomusical DE-LOVELY, performed by Grammy Award-winner Alanis Morissette.