What Is This Thing Called Love? "New" Porter Musical The Pirate Opens in Philly

News   What Is This Thing Called Love? "New" Porter Musical The Pirate Opens in Philly
More than 40 years have passed since the death of Broadway composer-lyricist Cole Porter, but his melodies linger on in a "new" musical, The Pirate, opening May 13 in Philadelphia.
Andrea Burns and Sean Martin in The Pirate.
Andrea Burns and Sean Martin in The Pirate.

"Jack, you'll never lack if you can quack like a duck." So goes Porter's advice in "Be a Clown," one of the standout numbers from the 1948 movie musical, "The Pirate," which is being reinvented at Prince Music Theater as a stage show.

Cole Porter's The Pirate is adapted from the M-G-M picture, and has been finding its way at the Prince since previews began May 6. Andréa Burns and Seán Martin Hingston play roles created by Judy Garland and Gene Kelly.

Prince Associate Artistic Director Richard M. Parison, Jr. (Dreamgirls) directs the world premiere production, which continues to May 28. The Porter score from the film has been expanded to include the 1929 Porter classic, "What Is This Thing Called Love?," and other Porter tunes. The Broadway songwriter known for Anything Goes and Kiss Me, Kate died in 1964.

Additional new songs by composer Brad Ross and lyricists David Levy and Zack Manna have been added to flesh out the story. Manna and Levy adapted the screenplay for the stage. Their official credit is "new book and additional lyrics by David Levy and Zack Manna."

Porter's "Be a Clown" may be the best-known song from the Vincente Minnelli-directed picture. "Voodoo," a provocative number cut from the film because it was "too sexy for the times," according to Prince, has been restored. Porter's "I Concentrate on You" and "Wake Up and Dream," as well as the lesser-known "A Fool There Was" are also freshly interpolated into the stage show.

According to Prince Music Theater, "Cole Porter's The Pirate "is a comic adventure about a highborn but penniless young West Indies woman, Manuela, whose aunt wants to get rich by marrying her off to the wealthy mayor of the island. Dreaming of romance and the freewheeling life of pirates, Manuela falls in love with a dashing traveling actor who masquerades as the pirate of her dreams. Hijinks ensue as young love meets powerful opposition from all sides — including the real pirate himself, whose identity will surprise everyone!"

"We're trying to stay true to the swashbuckling, joyous nature of the film," Parison told Playbill.com.

During the week of previews, Parison explained, "It's been a tremendously exciting process. We've been finding out what it is, what the tone of it is. Some pieces of the plot — some characters and conventions — are fresh from the movie, and some are inventions of the new creators' minds that we hope add to the story. Part of this preview week was about collaborating with [Prince Producing Director] Marjorie Samoff and the writers to make some changes, including some song choices. And we added another Cole Porter tune, 'All of You.' That required an additional vocal arrangement, an additional book scene. We also moved 'I Concentrate on You' to another scene."

Prince Music Theater remains one of only a handful of American resident not-for-profits committed to full productions of new works.

"In today's economic climate we are still doing it and persevering," Parison said. "We're a boutique. A world premiere musical is a big project. I think we have a really extraordinary piece of musical theatre here. It's something that the Prince really specializes in: unique pieces."


The cast also includes Tom Flynn as Don Pedro, Pamela Myers (Broadway's original Company) as Aunt Ines, James T. Lane as Trillo, Aileen Goldberg as Lizarda, Steve Pacek as Bolo, Julian Brightman as Gumbo, Cheryl Freeman as Mango Woman, Danielle G. Herbert as Isabella, Marla Mindelle as Mafalda, Richard J. Hinds (ensemble), James Clark (ensemble), Kaitlin Rose Mercurio (ensemble).

Burns' credits include Off-Broadway's Saturday Night as well as Broadway's The Full Monty and Beauty and the Beast. Hingston is a veteran of Broadway's Contact, Swing! and Crazy for You.

The original story for the musical came from a 1942 Broadway play by S. N. Behrman that starred Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne.

The stage version came about following discussions between the Cole Porter Trusts, Warner Bros. Theatre Ventures, S. N. Behrman Estate, and the Prince Music Theater, along with the new writers.

"We found a movie from the golden age of M-G-M movie musicals so sensational and stylized that it clamored to be adapted for the stage," said Levy and Manna in a statement. "The wonderful score included five songs and a dazzling 'Pirate Ballet,' plus cut numbers like 'Voodoo' that offered a less-familiar dimension of Cole Porter's musical genius."

To fill out the score, with the backing of the Cole Porter Trusts, the writers added songs from the vast Cole Porter song catalog. The authors also "believed that the show needed book songs that did not exist and made the decision to create songs that relate more closely to the book, thus avoiding any change in existing Cole Porter lyrics."

The new authors, along with composer Brad Ross (Off-Broadway's Little By Little), wrote new songs that are plot-specific.

"The raw material for this show is truly a feast," stated Prince producing director Marjorie Samoff. "At a time when a new generation is rediscovering the glories of the great American song legacy, we have a chance to give new theatrical life to astonishing Cole Porter songs. With the partnership of the Cole Porter Trusts and Warner Bros. Theatre Ventures, a wonderful Cole Porter score can take the stage to tell a timeless comic story."

Steven Freeman joins the creative team as music director and Chase Brock is choreographer.

The new production includes sets designed by acclaimed Broadway designer, Ray Klausen (Brooklyn and On Golden Pond). The lighting will be designed by Shelley Hicklin, with costumes designed by Mark Mariani. Sound design will be by the Prince resident sound designer, Nick Kourtides.

The score as it existed in the first week of rehearsal included "Wake Up and Dream," "Macocco" (Levy/Manna/Ross), "I Concentrate on You," "Niña," "Port Sebastien" (Levy/Manna/Ross), "Play On" (Levy/Manna/Ross), "Mack the Black," "What Is This Thing Called Love?," "Voodoo," "Love of My Life," "The Pirate Ballet," "You Can Do No Wrong," "A Fool There Was," "Be a Clown" and "Wake Up and Dream" (reprise).

For more information, visit www.princemusictheater.org.

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