nytheatre.com review by Lisa Ferber
April 16, 2008
This Musicals Tonight! production of Paris marks the world debut of this 1928 show: when it was presented 80 years ago on Broadway, it included songs by various others, but thanks to the fine folks at Musicals Tonight! having uncovered the originals, this version includes all of the songs intended for Paris by composer/lyricist Cole Porter. The result is an absolutely 100% delightful musical comedy with a clever book by Martin Brown and terrific performances all around.
Paris tells the story of a young man named Andrew Sabbott (Kevin Kraft) who wants to marry flashy French showgirl Vivienne (Jennifer Evans). Vivienne has been written up in the local paper as The Darling of Paris. Only trouble is, his prim tee-totaling mother Cora (Mary Van Arsdel) does not approve, and Vivienne will only marry Andrew if his mother likes her. Cora is one staid lady, and she is dedicated to upholding family tradition. She even reprimands her son, "Look at your clothes! The Sabbotts never wear anything but navy blue and black." When she hears music coming in from a bar outside, she declares, "It's probably salacious. The French cannot even blow a cornet without it having a double meaning."
Vivienne's performing partner, the smooth talking Guy Pennel (played by the convincingly slick David Edwards), wants Vivienne to sign a contract and move to New York with him. However, he agrees to use his charms on Cora to encourage her to loosen her values and accept Vivienne into the family. Of course Vivienne does not think this should be too difficult, given Guy's appeal and her own, which she describes as quelque chose (that indefinable something), in the song of the same name:
This quelque chose
Gets all my beaux
In such a state of haze
That even though
I say go, go,
They stay for days and days
It's impossible not to marvel at Porter's lyrics. In a charm song called "Don't Look at Me That Way," in which the maid sings about a fellow whose eyes have a power over her, we get this:
So full of passion his pupils are
That girls forget what their scruples are
I'm very mild, I'm very meek
My will is strong, but my won't is weak
And of course there's one of Porter's most famous songs, "Let's Do It, Let's Fall in Love": "Some Argentines, without means do it / People say, in Boston, even beans do it / Let's do it, let's fall in love."
After Cora's transition to flapperesque party girl (thanks to Guy) she sings the risqué "Wait Until It's Bedtime," in which she explains how best to handle a problem with a lover: "Wait until it's bedtime if you've got an ax to grind / Wait until it's bedtime and you'll find him much more kind." This is followed by more of Brown's clever dialogue. Andrew says to his mother, "It's very evident that you've been drinking." She replies, "Well, I hope so. What's the use of drinking if it has no effect."
Van Arsdel's robust performance of the song "Let's Misbehave" is outstanding. She is equally adept at playing the prim mother and the devil-may-care bon vivant. When I read in her bio that she has played Mama Rose in Gypsy, I wasn't the least bit surprised; this gal's got gusto.
Toward the end of the second act there is an energizing and playful straight series of the songs "Let's Do It, Let's Fall in Love," "Dizzy Baby," "Heaven Hop," and "Let's Misbehave." The feeling in the room during and after this medley is delicious goodness.
All in all, Paris is pure pleasure and well worth seeing.