Cole Porter: The New Yorkers

Lost Musicals

Lilian Baylis Studio Theatre, Sadler's Wells, London, 30 March 2009 4 stars

The New YorkersFor the latest instalment of his Lost Musicals series, Ian Marshall Fisher has chosen a Cole Porter rarity, The New Yorkers.

Premiered on Broadway in December 1930, the show ran for a healthy 168 performances and introduced two of Porter's biggest hits, 'Love for Sale' and 'I Happen to Like New York'.

The New Yorkers turns out to be a surprisingly enduring piece with a sharp satirical edge. It was set in the era in which it was written and the leading themes of the show include the Depression and prohibition. The story deals with the relationship between socialite Alice Wentworth and bootlegger Al Spanish and their adventures, which include arranging for a police raid, masterminding a jailbreak and visiting the factory from where Al's bootlegging business is run.

The script also provides an honest portrayal of the battle of the sexes, especially when it comes to Alice's parents and their respective lovers. Porter's achievement in the piece is high indeed, not just in the two more familiar songs but also in the lesser-known 'Go Into Your Dance', 'Where Have You Been', 'Say It With Gin', 'I'm Getting Myself Ready for You' and 'Take Me Back to Manhattan', most of which are good examples of the composer-lyricist's wit and sophistication.

Less to my taste are the interpolated songs by Jimmy Durante, written to be performed by himself in the original production. Marshall Fisher has done an admirable job of tracking two-and-a-half of these down (there is no surviving score for a number called 'Data'), but there's a noticeable drop in the musical quality in these sections and they tend to divert us from the story, even if the lyrics are amusing.

Nonetheless, there's something irresistibly action-packed about the show, with its gunshots and police whistles, and the timing of this concert reading, in evening dress with no sets and only a piano accompaniment, is happy indeed, coinciding as it does with Sondheim's Saturday Night, which has now transferred to the Arts Theatre. The New Yorkers inhabits a similar atmosphere, and it's fascinating to see the two in quick succession. As ever with the Lost Musicals, the verve of the performance instantly makes one forget the lack of a lavish staging, and the cast is uniformly excellent.

Anna Francolini brought the complete package to the role of Alice: stylish singing and impeccably-timed delivery of her comic, often sardonic lines. Craige Els was was contrasted as the rough Al Spanish; he'll surely be perfect as Jud Fry in this summer's production of Oklahoma! at the Chichester Festival. Ursula Smith and Brian Greene were endearing as the elder Wentworth couple, while Jon Robyns was an assured James Livingston and Dawn Spence was brilliant in several numbers as Mona Low.

Sandra Marvin excelled as Lola, rising confidently to the challenge of 'I Happen to Like New York', and Corrie Mac, Andrew P Stephen, Grant Neal and Matthew Gould offered strong support. Michael Roberts was particularly outstanding in the Jimmy Durante role, almost stealing the show at times, and his cronies were admirably played by Jud Charlton and Chris Stanton.

Steven Edis' accompaniment was solid, if a little loud and unnuanced at times, but overall it's a hugely enjoyable presentation and it's well worth catching one of the remaining performances.

By Dominic McHugh


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