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November 23 - 30, 2000
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Hot enough

Goodspeed revives a Broadway castoff

by Steve Vineburg


Music and lyrics by Cole Porter. Book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse. Revised and directed by Michael Leeds. Choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler. Musical direction by Michael O'Flaherty. Sets designed by Kenneth Foy. Costumes by Ann Hould-Ward. Lighting by Ken Billington. With Debbie Gravitte, Peter Reardon, Ben Pipitz, Jessica Kostival, Billy Hartung, and Robin Baxter. At the Goodspeed Opera House, East Haddam, Connecticut, through December 31.

Red Hot and Blue Red, Hot and Blue was produced on Broadway in 1936, two years after Anything Goes, and was intended to duplicate the runaway success of the earlier show. It reunited the com-

poser-lyricist (the peerless Cole Porter) and the book-writing team (Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse) with the star (Ethel Merman), and the original plan was to bookend her with the same two leading men (William Gaxton and Victor Moore). When they weren't available, Bob Hope and Jimmy Durante were slotted in; the lovable convict Durante played, Policy Pinkle, was really a retread of the role Moore had taken in Anything Goes, Public Enemy Number Thirteen.

As it turned out, Red, Hot and Blue ran less than half as long as its predecessor, and musical-theater historians remember it today mostly for the billboard ad, which crisscrossed Merman's and Durante's names in order to satisfy both stars' insistence on getting top billing. Certainly it's wasn't likely to be remembered for its plot, which concerns a lottery premised on the Hope character's reunion with his childhood sweetheart, recognizable by the waffle-iron scar on her ass.

This is not so much a book musical as a series of burlesque routines elevated by Porter's songs. This wasn't his most accomplished score, but it does have its share of gems -- "It's De-Lovely" (which was appropriated by the 1962 revival of Anything Goes), "Down in the Depths (on the Ninetieth Floor)," "Ridin' High," and a gorgeous ballad called "Goodbye, Little Dream, Goodbye," which was cut before the opening. Michael Leeds's production at Goodspeed has restored the song, eliminated half the original numbers, and added songs from other Porter musicals.

Leeds has also revised the book, retaining the main satirical target, the US Senate, though their role is rather obtuse. Mostly the actors in the senators' roles -- Paul Carlin, Beth Glover, Vince Trani, and Lesley Blumenthal, all of whom perform with panache -- get their laughs on lines about recounts that no one could have anticipated would turn out to be so timely.

The Goodspeed production has a somewhat clunky first act and a tip-top second. It's in act two that most of the best songs are performed, in orchestrations by musical director Michael O'Flaherty that show off the voices of the principal performers -- especially those of Peter Reardon (in the Bob Hope part), Debbie Gravitte (standing in for Ethel Merman) and Jessica Kostival (as Gravitte's secretary). Gravitte, a Mimi Rogers look-alike, is livelier in the second act, but she doesn't have enough of a pop-up personality for the part. (Brassy broads aren't Goodspeed's forte.) As Pinkle, Ben Lipitz is a more aggravated case of the same problem. In one scene, Pinkle functions as his own lawyer, jumping in and out of the witness stand; you can imagine how hilarious it might have been with Durante's shtick to fill it in, but here it's so flat that the energy Lipitz expends on it almost embarrasses you. On the other hand, Reardon's style and timing are impeccable. Kostival and Billy Hartung, as the not-quite-reformed pickpocket hired as a butler by Gravitte's Nails Duquesne (a former manicurist and now moneyed widow whose favorite charity work is rehabilitating ex-cons), are pleasing in the ingenue and juvenile parts, and they dance together well. The real thief is Robin Baxter, who -- as a barrel-throated maid known as Peaches -- makes off with every scene she's in.

The show has a great deal to recommend it, including five slightly overage debutantes (Trish Reidy, Dianna Bush, Darlene Wilson, Stephanie Kurtzuba, and Kirstin Maloney); the running gag is that these women come out anew every year to sate their sexual appetites, and the convicts provide just the thrill they were missing. The women (including Glover and Blumenthal as the female senators) get their chance at a showstopper when they join forces with Robin Baxter on "Most Gentlemen Don't Like Love." That's the highlight of the show. (The low end is the unflattering dresses Ann Hould-Ward has hung on the women.) Overall it's good, silly fun, and the second half is rousing. too. You can see why -- unlike Anything Goes, which has never lost its popularity -- Red, Hot and Blue hasn't been courted for revivals through the decades. But it's worth one, anyway, if only to relive the days when even a second-rate Broadway musical could star Ethel Merman and Jimmy Durante and boast half a dozen memorable Cole Porter tunes.

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