The Many Sources of Cole Porter High Society Songs

News   The Many Sources of Cole Porter High Society Songs
 
High Society, the "new" Cole Porter musical now previewing at Broadway's St. James Theatre for an April 27 opening, will have seven out of its nine songs from his 1956 film musical of the same name, plus four new-to Broadway songs--four and a half, actually. Which is pretty good hitting for a songwriter who has been dead 34 years.

High Society, the "new" Cole Porter musical now previewing at Broadway's St. James Theatre for an April 27 opening, will have seven out of its nine songs from his 1956 film musical of the same name, plus four new-to Broadway songs--four and a half, actually. Which is pretty good hitting for a songwriter who has been dead 34 years.

One "new" song--"I Worship You" -- was found to be a perfect fit for George Kittredge (Marc Kudisch), who worships fiancee Tracy Lord (Melissa Errico) without really loving her. It was introduced by William Gaxton at Boston's Colonial Theatre in 1929's Fifty Million Frenchmen, then dropped en route to Broadway.

Another discard from Fifty Million Frenchmen -- "Why Don't We Try Staying Home?" -- is used as a reconciliation song for Tracy's estranged parents, Marjorie (Lisa Banes) and Seth Lord (Daniel Gerroll).

The best-known of Porter's nearly Broadway songs is "Let's Behave" -- here, a comedy idea for Tracy and her wily Uncle Willie (John McMartin). It was replaced by "Let's Do It" in Porter's 1928 Paris.

Another Tracy song, "Once Upon a Time," was composed in 1933 for a Guy Bolton-scripted show that was never completed or produced. It was known, variously, as Yours, Ever Yours and Once Upon a Time. The song was never published, but Bobby Short recorded it in 1971. The "new" half-song is the title tune, which the Lord household staff (led by A Doll's Life's Betsy Joslyn) get to sing the top of Act I and Act II. It's a fusion of "High Society Calypso," which Louis Armstrong sang at the start of the film musical, and an earlier Porter, "Let's Vocalize." Susan Birkenhead brought the Porter lyrics up to '90s speed for this and six other Porter songs.

Counting that curtain-raiser, half a dozen songs from the movie made it into the Broadway-musical remake: "Little One" is sung by Tracy's ex, C.K. Dexter Haven (Daniel McDonald), to his former kid-sister-in-law, Dinah (Anna Kendrick); the Oscar-nominated "True Love" is again a ballad between Tracy and Dexter; the scandal-sheet reporter and photographer covering Tracy's next nuptials, Mike Connor (Stephen Bogardus) and Liz Imberie (Randy Graff) get to drink the elegant scene in with "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?"; Tracy rates rhapsodies from both Mike ("You're Sensational") and Dexter ("I Love You, Samantha").

There is a seventh movie song used in the new stage version, but "Well, Did You Evah?" was originally written for 1939's Du Barry Was a Lady and was sung by two young stars who were about to happen in Hollywood: Betty Grable of the million-dollar-legs fame and Charles Walters, the MGM musical director of Easter Parade; in the 1956 film, it made a classy duet for Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra; in its current stage resurrection, it's an outing for Tracy, Uncle Willie Liz and the household staff.

Two songs from the movie were not considered for the current Broadway resurrection: "Mind If I Made Love to You" (Sinatra's line to Grace Kelly) and "Then You Has Jazz" (a party duet for Crosby and Armstrong).

One of the subplots musically elaborated for Broadway has Liz feverishly fending off the skirt-chasing Uncle Willie while hoping for more than platonic lover from Mike. Uncle Willie's raunchiness is established with "Say It With Gin," an unpublished Porter which the ensemble executed in 1930's The New Yorkers--and seconded by "She's Got That Thing" (nee "You've Got That Thing," which Jack Thompson and Betty Compton sang in Fifty Million Frenchman). Then he and Liz pick up a little steam with "I'm Getting Myself Ready for You" (also from The New Yorkers, and originated by Ann Pennington, Barrie Oliver, Frances Williams and Maurice Lapue). She winds singing (about Mike) "He's a Right Guy," as did Ethel Merman in 1943's Something for the Boys.

Two other Merman-made Porter hits made the cut: "Throwing a Ball Tonight" from 1940's Panama Hattie is here done by Tracy, her mother and Uncle Willie, and "Ridin' High," which is handled by Tracy and the household staff. These two Lord women share "I Am Loved," which was Porter's favorite song (introduced by Priscilla Gillette) from his 1950 Out of This World.

Tracy is also allowed two Can-Can" numbers -- "It's All Right With Me," introduced by Peter Cookson, and "I Love Paris," introduced by Lilo; the latter Tracy sings with Dinah to intimidate the visiting press.

"Just One of Those Things," which June Knight and the aforementioned Charles Walters introduced in 1935's Jubilee is allocated to Dexter.

Not counting reprises, High Society began previews packing a total of 21 Porter tunes.

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