Debbie Gravitte wraps up her reprise of the belty-dame role, Nails Duquesne, in Paper Mill's staging of the revised revival of Cole Porter's Red, Hot and Blue, Dec. 2.
The musical comedy is the largely-forgotten Porter show that gave us the alliterative, nonsensical and hyperbolic "It's De Lovely," and starred Ethel Merman, Bob Hope and Jimmy Durante. Director Michael Leeds revised the 1936 Russel Crouse-Howard Lindsay script for the Goodspeed Opera House run starring Gravitte in 2000, and Paper Mill took interest and the show has been slightly revised since 2000. The musical is now billed as The New Red, Hot and Blue. Performances began at Paper Mill Oct. 24 in Millburn, NJ.
The musical gave birth to two of Porter's enduring hits: "It's De Lovely" and "Ridin' High," to say nothing of the cabaret favorite, "Down in the Depths." Six numbers were cut from the original score and seven from the Porter catalog (including "Goodbye, Little Dream, Goodbye," "Just One of Those Things," "I've Got You Under My Skin") were interpolated.
The Paper Mill cast in Millburn, NJ, differs from the Goodspeed troupe that had its run Oct. 13-Dec. 31, 2000, in East Haddam, CT. The company now includes Bruce Adler as Policy Pinkle (the Durante role), Jim Walton as Bob Hale, Felicia Finley as Grace and Michael Gruber as Fingers. The Cole Porter romp is directed and adapted by Leeds, with choreography by Andy Blankenbeuhler (Fosse, Saturday Night Fever) and musical direction by Tom Helm. Gravitte appeared in Broadway's Zorba and won the Tony Award for Jerome Robbins' Broadway. She plays the role created by Ethel Merman. Walton, late of Paper Mill's Crazy For You (seen on PBS), plays the role Hope created. Adler was Tony Award-nominated for playing impresario Bela Zangler in Broadway's Crazy For You (also at Paper Mill). Gruber was Young Ben in Paper Mill's Follies and Don Lockwood in Paper Mill's Singin' in the Rain.
Red, Hot and Blue centers around Nails Duquesne (Gravitte), a former manicurist turned wealthy widow. She holds a lottery to help her lawyer and pal, Bob Hale, find the lost love of his life. To assist in the search, Nails and her perennial debutantes arrange for the parole of several prison inmates. The leader, Policy Pinkle, is a sentimental jailbird who resents his release from luxurious prison life. The Senate Finance Committee eventually gets involved. The search for a missing heiress includes this plot point: Her identity can only be determined by a waffle iron mark on her behind.
Also in the original score are "Down in the Depths," "The Ozarks Are Callin' Me Home," "Red, Hot and Blue," "What a Great Pair We'll Be," "Five Hundred Million," "You've Got Something," "Carry On" and "Ours."
The "revisal" features "Perennial Debutantes," "Down In the Depths," "Carry On," "Five Hundred Million," "It's De-Lovely," "Ridin' High," "The Ozarks Are Callin' Me Home," "Hymn to Hymen" and "Red, Hot and Blue" (all from the original score) plus interpolations "It Ain't Etiquette" from DuBarry Was a Lady, "You've Got That Thing"/"You Do Something to Me" from Fifty Million Frenchmen, "I'm Throwing a Ball Tonight" from Panama Hattie, "Just One of Those Things" from Leave it to Me, "I've Got You Under My Skin" from the film, "Born to Dance," "Goodbye, Little Dream, Goodbye" from Red, Hot and Blue (cut out of town).
The cast includes Brian Barry, Tesha Buss, Jeremy Davis, Dick Decareau, Laura Dysarczyk, Jaymes Hodges, Stephanie Kurtzuba, Susan Lamontagne, Ben Lipitz, Jody Madaras, Lisa Mandel, Dana Moore, Mark Reis, Josh Rhodes, Carolyn Saxon, Leonard Sullivan, Melodie Wolford and Dana Zihlman.
Director Leeds wrote and directed the critically acclaimed Swinging on a Star at Goodspeed at Chester, which transferred to the Goodspeed mainstage and then to Broadway, and was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Musical.
For more information, call (973) 376-4343 or visit www.papermill.org.
— By Kenneth Jones