Goodspeed revives a Broadway castoff
by Steve Vineburg
RED, HOT AND BLUE.
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 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
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.