By Robert Simonson
and David Lefkowitz
27 Apr 1998
Cole Porter returns to Broadway April 27 with the opening of High Society a stage adaptation of his 1956 film musical, with a new book by Arthur Kopit, and some new lyrics by Susan Birkenhead. The production stars Melissa Errico, Daniel McDonald, Stephen Bogardus and John McMartin.
The production which tried out in San Francisco in 1997, underwent several changes during a month of previews. Director Des McAnuff and choreographer Wayne Cilento were brought in to assist the show's Christopher Renshaw and Lar Lubovitch..
The film High Society was, in turn, based on Philip Barry's 1939 play The Philadelphia Story. The Broadway show includes most of the songs from the movie, along with various tunes selected from other Porter musicals, plus some trunk songs.
High Society tells the story of the humanization (through love) of a haughty, aristocratic woman, a part originally written specifically for Katharine Hepburn because Barry liked the movie she did of his play, Holiday. The result, The Philadelphia Story, opened at Broadway's Shubert March 28, 1939, and revitalized Hepburn's sagging career. The roles of the ex-hubby, reporter, photographer and philanderer were originated by Joseph Cotten, Van Heflin, Shirley Booth and Forrest Orr on stage and brought to film a year later by Cary Grant, James Stewart (who won an Oscar), Ruth Hussey and Roland Young; in Porter's film musical (which had Philadelphia's pre-princess, Grace Kelly, in the Hepburn role), those parts were essayed by Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Celeste Holm and, in his last film, Louis Calhern.
The cast features Melissa Errico as Tracy; Daniel McDonald as her ex-husband, Dexter; John McMartin as Uncle Willie, Stephen Bogardus as reporter Macaulay Conner, Betsy Joslyn as the Cook, and Randy Graff as Conner's sidekick photographer, Liz Imbrie. The musical began life at the American Conservatory of Music in San Francisco in the fall of 1997.
A bit of trivia: the aforementioned McMartin appeared in another pastiched Cole Porter musical: Happy New Year, which ran Apr. 27-May 10, 1980. Based on a different Barry play Holiday, that show interpolated such Porter songs as "Ridin' High" "Once Upon A Time" (both in High Society) and "I Am Loved" (recently cut from Society).
Designing High Society are Loy Arcenas (sets), Jane Greenwood (costumes; Judith Dolan did the costumes at ACT); and Tony Meola (sound). Christopher Akerlind did the lighting in San Francisco, but Howell Binkley will light the New York production.
Dodger Endemol Theatricals and Hal Luftig & Richard Samson produced the stage show with Robert Gailus & Lauren Mitchell, the former actress and debuting producer. (She originated the title role in Kiss of the Spider Woman when that musical premiered at SUNY Purchase in the spring of 1990.) Dodger Endemol has been very busy on Broadway the last few seasons. Productions include Titanic, 1776, Tommy, the Donna Murphy King and I and the Nathan Lane A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.
Tickets to High Society can be ordered at (212) 239-6200. You can also order tickets on Playbill On-Line.