“Cole Porter 125” A Birthday Celebration” A Swell Party Is Was
Reviewed by: Russell Goeltenbodt
Being a singer who has been exposed to a variety of music most of my life, I appreciate all forms of music. My appreciation for the classic standard by some of the 20th greats such as George and Ira Gershwin, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Jerome Kern are definitely on the list. At the top of that list has to be the music of Cole Porter.
On the occasion of Cole Porter’s 125th Birthday it was celebrated in style on September 24 at the historic Roosevelt University’s Auditorium Theatre. Coincidently, it is the same place where Cole Porter launched the theatre premier of his 1938 musical “Leave it to Me”. So it is very appropriate to celebrate Cole Porter’s life, music and his 125th birthday at this beautiful venue with style, class, outstanding singing and a 16 piece orchestra. I know that Cole was smiling from above listening to this beautiful evening of his music.
Chicago cabaret artist Joan Curto directed and brought this celebration together inviting a few other know artists from the Chicago cabaret and jazz genre. Joining Joan Curto were Beckie Menzie, Tom Michael, Tammy McCann, and Paul Marinaro. All of these singers were supported by Rich Daniels and his 16 piece City Lights Orchestra. What a swell party it was!
As you walked into the Auditorium Theatre lobby before, during, and after the show, or looking at the audience I recognized a number of local cabaret performers and entertainers joining in the celebration, celebrating and supporting their fellow singers and friends. Joined with an audience of approximately 1200, we witnessed an entertaining evening of Cole Porter’s music. I know that all of us would have loved to share in the experience of performing on this magnificent stage. However, due to logistics and time restraints, Joan could only select these four wonderful singers to join her with this celebration. Along with some envy, there was great pride for this group of performers keeping the music of Cole Porter alive.
The evening began with a video telling the story about the life and music of Cole Porter. The video presentation was orchestrated by music historian Charles Troy. Charles, who is well known nationally for his presentations about many famous composers and Broadway shows, put together a fabulous presentation providing the back story of the life of Cole Porter. His presentation continued before the beginning of the 2nd act. The first part of the presentation looked at Cole’s early life and his musical beginnings. The 2nd half continued with Cole’s life in Paris, more of his musical accomplishments, as well as his ability to continue his musical composing and journey after surviving his tragic accident from falling from a horse. Charles Troy’s extremely well researched presentation was an excellent embellishment to beginning this performance before both acts.
Rich Daniels’ City Lights Orchestra gave an overture for both acts of Cole Porter’s well known favorites with a big sound that brought the beginning of this celebration to life.
Joan Curto entered the theatre singing “My Heart Belongs to Daddy” then showed the audience an original playbill from Cole’s show, (Leave it to Me) as I mentioned earlier that opened at the Auditorium Theatre in 1938. Joan continued by telling the story about Mary Martin who had a starring role singing “My Heart Belongs to Daddy” in a very sweet demure way. When co-star Sophie Tucker asked Mary, “Do you know what this song is really about? You aren’t singing about Daddy, you are singing about DADDY!!!!!”. Joan then continued the song with bawdiness and brass bringing the show to a celebratory beginning setting the tone for the evening.
All of the performances for this show were outstanding. Some of my favorite moments were Beckie Menzie and Joan dressed like hobos singing, “Brush Up Your Shakespeare, (Kiss Me Kate, 1948). This number was complete with choreography and some comic relief, and proved to be a very fun number.
Beckie was then joined on stage with her musical partner Tom Michael singing Beckie’s artistic arrangement of “Too Darned Hot”,(Kiss me Kate, 1948). Beckie and Tom take an exciting musical journey with this song. Their blending and harmonies are truly dynamic and flawless. Beckie and Tom also gave fantastic individual performances.
Tom Michael gave an emotionally haunting version of “In the Still of The Night”, (Rosalie, 1937). Tom’s beautiful sound and emotion filled the theater with his luxurious sound and passion.
Beckie Menzie preformed her arrangement of “It’s alright With Me”, (CanCan, 1953). Her piano arrangement of this song began very classical which built to a jazzy climax. It was an exceptional treat to hear this arrangement, especially since we don’t get many occasions to hear Beckie perform solo. What a treat to hear Beckie Menzie on her own!
Paul Marinaro, who is nationally known for his jazz and Sinatra interpretations, bought his vocal talents to the celebration singing “Get Out Of Town”, (Leave it To Me, 1938). Paul’s interpretation of this song was smooth as silk giving the right amount of an emotional edge about love going wrong. Paul’s comfort with the orchestra proved that he is no novice to being on stage, and he has a passion for his craft. Paul also sang “Begin the Beguine”, (Jubilee, 1935); and “I Concentrate on You”, (Broadway Melody, 1940). All of which was sung with Paul’s incredible style.
I really enjoy and love every performer from this celebration and their outstanding performances and talent. But I have to say it appeared the evening belonged to renowned jazz performer, Tammy McCann and her song “Riding High”, (Red, Hot, and Blue, 1936). Tammy took charge of the stage with her big sound that continued to fill the Auditorium Theater with lively notes, a great sound. Tammy was the icing on Cole Porter’s cake. Tammy’s performance continued with “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To”, (Something to Shout About, 1943); and later with “All of You”, (Silk Stockings, 1955). Tammy’s performance was truly show stopping, accented by the great sound of the City Lights Orchestra.
The evening and celebration also belonged to Joan Curto who sang a rousing “Leader of a Big Time Band”, (Something for the Boys, 1943). Joan sings with power and makes the song her own. Even though I enjoy Joan’s version of “I Love Paris”, (Can Can,1953) I really love to hear Joan belt the big numbers. Her vibrant voice fills the room with excitement and emotion.
The evening’s finale brought the entire cast together to sing, “ Every time We Say Good Bye”, (Seven Lively Arts, 1944); Let’s Do It”, (Paris,1928); and my all time favorite “Blow Gabriel Blow”, (Anything Goes, 1934) . The combined talented group of singers blended with amazing harmonies. This brought the show to a sensational climax and ended this celebration on an extreme high note.
I have to admit that I would have loved to hear some more of Cole Porter’s songs, but we would have been at the celebration until the next week. I really missed hearing You’re the Top, Anything Goes, and What a Swell Party This Is; to name a few. Since Joan put together such a wonderful celebration for Cole Porter’s 125th birthday. Perhaps we can look forward to Cole’s 130th? I know I will look forward to it. In the meantime, congratulations to Joan Curto, Beckie Menzie, Tom Michael, Paul Marinaro, Tammy McCann, Rich Daniels and the City Lights Orchestra, and last but not least to Charles Troy for a sensational tribute to Cole Porter, his life and his music. Bravo!!!