First, there was the Broadway play, The Philadelphia Story. Then there was the Cole Porter movie musical, High Society. Starting previews Mar. 31 at the St. James Theatre will be the Broadway musical adaptation, also titled High Society, which gave the NY press a sneak preview Mar. 10.
Playbill On-Line was there.
Director Christopher Renshaw (The King and I) opened the presentation at 890 Broadway studios with a brief description of the set for the opening scene. It will be the house of the wealthy Lord family in Oyster Bay, Long Island, with the staff seen in it and through it and on different levels.
At the Mar. 10 preview, however, the house was no more than a blue felt-covered wall with a ladder behind it.
Still, the chorus, as servants in sweatclothes, dusted it and wiped at it, singing of the "High Society," the show's opening number. With feather dusters tucked into their sweatpants and brooms in hand, they also showed off a little of the energetic choreography by Lar Lubovitch. Based on the social and film dances of the late 1930s, the choreography grew out of a dance called "The Shag," he said. The style seemed fitting to the servants, not the aristocracy, a deliberate move by Lubovitch. He said, "The high society learns to dance from the servants."
Not yet, though. Melissa Errico's Tracy Lord, who appeared to be "Riding High" in red coat, black hat, crop--everything but the jodhpurs, interrupted the servants. Here, Lord sung contentedly about her privileged life, removing her outer riding costume, donning her veil and surrounding herself with her maids who were excited for her for winning such a prize as Marc Kudish's George Kittredge.
In the second scene, a piece from Act I, Lord and tabloid journalist, Mike Connor (Stephen Bogardus), drunkenly staggered together, insulting each other and Lord's future husband. Connor has fallen in love with Lord and can't bear to think of her married to "stupid" Kittredge.
They fought, then sang a love song, "Sensational," which ended in kisses.
For comic relief, High Society displayed one of its more amusing subplots -- the pursuit of Connor's photographer, Liz Imbrie (Randy Graff) by Lord's lecherous Uncle Willie (John McMartin). Their song, "Getting Myself Ready for You," was a sort of verbal dance -- Willie's suggestive attempts to get his hands on Liz and Liz's attempts politely, but firmly, to put him off.
Act I closes with the final number the cast performed, a duet between Lord and her ex-husband, Daniel McDonald's C.K. Dexter Haven. Porter's standard "True Love," the exes -- now on the eve of her wedding to another man -- reflected on their feelings over Haven's wedding present, a model of the yacht on which they spent their honeymoon. Errico finished the song alone with the yacht and a champagne glass dangling from each hand.
Alcohol,in fact, abounded in the presentation--from the prop table littered with bottles (Jose Cuervo Tequila, Bacardi Rum, gin, triple sec, and, of course, champagne) to the glasses characters seemed to have permenantly affixed to their hands.
Errico laughed at the mention of drinking in the show and Lord's participation in it, using it to sum up her character. "I'm an alcoholic and a raging bitch! Totally caught up in myself. I think she's a total stuck up woman -- early on. She thinks she's going to solve everyone's life."
Including getting rid of her old husband and picking up a new one. Although she makes a mess of her life, Lord turns out all right in the end -- and with one of her three men.
"She's forgiven by everybody. They say Tracy didn't mean it and they let her have her happy ending," she said.
It was the emotional numbers, however, that drew Errico in. "Cole Porter is witty, witty, witty, Yale, Yale, Yale, but we put a couple of his songs in there that he was really proud of. He wanted to be known as a man who wrote emotional music. I try to dig into some of the more passionate songs because I don't think people expect that. A Cole Porter musical is usually very brainy, whereas if I can actually get people to say they're touched by a song, I think Cole Porter would be pleased. It's just me and Cole."
While Errico -- and Cole -- carry most of the show, Kudisch sang nothing at the preview. In fact, he only sings one song, "I Worship You", at the end of Act I.
Kudisch didn't seem bothered -- for several reasons. For one, the song has never been performed on Broadway. It was cut from Fifty Million Frenchman, then later placed in another Porter piece that was never produced. Kudish will get to premiere the song. One-songed Kittredge was a break, too, after playing five-songed, physical Gaston in Disney's Beauty and the Beast, and, as Kudisch expressed, "I Worship You" is the ultimate expression of his character.
"After I sing that, there really isn't much left to be said. That's it," he said.
Bogardus didn't expect to sing in High Society at all. He had auditioned, but scheduling prevented him from being considered further. "I thought it was going to pass me by," he said.
Then, when Jere Shea desparted the show, Bogardus stepped into the role of cynical Mike Connor.
Bogardus described the character as a middle class guy who finds himself in upper class society and distains it. At first.
"Tracy opens up something in him -- opening up his life in a way and getting him to look beyond his own middle left ideas," he said.
He doesn't get Lord in the end, but there is the suggestion of a relationship between Connor and Graff's Imbrie. Bogardus explained that the two of them created a back story for their characters, a very involved history for the reporter and his photographer.
Perhaps the most difficult work displayed during the day, however, was carried out not by an actor, but by lyricist Susan Birkenhead. She has taken some of the Porter tunes and put new words to them.
The idea of being back to back with Porter lyrics intimidated her. "It's very scary...You keep thinking, there's all of Cole Porter out on that stage and there are six, seven or eight songs that are mine and are they going to say, 'Who does she think she is?'" she said.
Her lyrical tally, completed so far, included all the "High Society"s, both "Once Upon a Time"s, "You're Throwing a Ball," "Well Did You Evah!," and all of the verses of "Getting Myself Ready for You," except the first one.
As the preview event ended, Birkenhead said she planned to spend her afternoon adding two new verses for the servants for a transition scene between "She's Got That Thing" and a scene by the pool between Dexter, George, and Tracy.
But before she could leave, a group picture was called -- in another room. The studio cleared, soon becoming as empty as the champagne bottles littering the prop tables and, no doubt, the imaginary Lord's house. This Society, like 1930's society, had moved on.
Others in the cast included Lisa Banes (Margaret Lord), Anna Kendrick (Dinah Lord), Barry Finkel, Kisha Howard, Betsy Joslyn, Vince Pesce, William Ryall, Jeff Skowron, Jennifer Smith, Dorothy Stanle, and Glenn Turner.
Also present were producer Michael David, Arthur Kopit (book), Loy Arcenas (set design), Jane Greenwood (costumes) and Paul Gemignani (musical director).