Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Cole Porter's Very Seldom Seen 1932 musical Gay Divorce
42nd Street Moon is reviving the neglected Cole Porter show from 1932, Gay Divorce. This stylish musical opened at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on November 29, 1932 and featured Fred Astaire in his first solo performance. His sister Adele had decided to retire after they had performed in Bandwagon, and he was looking to revitalize his career. Cole Porter thought Astaire was the perfect Guy Holden. What sold the famous dancer on the musical was Porter's lovely "After You, Who?" Claire Luce played the romantic lead Mimi. Also in the cast were Erik Rhodes and Eric Blore who became staples of the early '30s RKO's comedies. Gay Divorce is more like a play with music since it has only 11 songs, the most famous being "Night and Day" followed by the charming "How's Your Romance?"
The show has a slim plotline involving American novelist Guy Holden (Michael Dotson) traveling in England and falling in love with a beautiful lady named Mimi (Nina Josephs). She mysteriously disappears after their initial meeting. Later Guy runs into her at a seaside resort and she mistakes him for the paid correspondent Rodolfo Tonetti (Rudy Guerrero) she has hired to facilitate her divorce from husband Robert (Don Cima). (As a side note, it seems to me that Tonetti was the inspiration for the character Aldolpho in The Drowsy Chaperone; many other elements of Gay Divorce seem to be incorporated in the Drowsy as well.)
Cole Porter thought that "Night and Day" was a novelty piece and it was sort of a throw away in the original score. The song was not even considered in the overture. RKO purchased the rights for their 1934 movie, titled The Gay Divorcee with Fred Astaire, Erik Rhodes and Eric Blore repeating their roles. Ginger Rodgers took over the role of Mimi. The film company scuttled all of Cole Porter's tunes with the exception of "Night and Day" and added Con Conrad and Herb Magidson's "The Continental" (which won the first Best Song Oscar).
Gay Divorce has had only a few revivals, the latest being the 1993 concert version at the small Weill Hall in New York with Rebecca Luker, Judy Kaye and Kurt Ollman.
Greg MacKellan has directed a chic version with all of the original early-1930s zingers in tow. The eleven singer-actors in this intimate production are all very good. Michael Dotson (Los Angeles actor, The Grand Tour at the Colony Theatre and Frankie in Forever Plaid at Las Vegas Flamingo) plays the sophisticated Guy Holden. He has a pleasing voice in "Night and Day" and "After You, Who?" Nina Josephs (Pardon My English, The Golden Apple, Miss Liberty, Li'l Abner is pitch perfect in her rendition of "Night and Day." Unfortunately, we do not get to hear her lovely voice in many of the songs.
Rudy Guerrero (Pippin, The Golden Apple, Can-Can) is hilarious as Tonetti, whose motto is "your wife is safe with Tonetti ... he prefers spaghetti." He livens the show every time he appears on stage, with the flux Italian accent down pat. He also has great vocal cords in "How's Your Romance?" Kalon Thibodeaux (I Hate Hamlet, Flora, the Red Menace) as Guy's lawyer friend Teddy Egbert sports a Mayfair accent that is spot on. Carla Befera (A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, Face the Music) returns to the stage to play Hortense, Mimi's oft-divorced friend and protector. She is excellent as she plays the role like Rosalind Russell with a dash of Eve Arden. She is very good in the little heard song, "Mr. and Mrs. Finch."
Don Cima (Once Upon a Mattress) as the husband Robert and Stephen Vaught (Pardon my English) as the waiter are very good in their roles. Elise Youssef, Jennifer Graham and Julie Kurtz who have small roles give creditable performances. Dave Dobrusky on piano is excellent as usual.
Gay Divorce plays through May 6th at the Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson Street, San Francisco. For tickets please call 415-255-8207 or on line at www.42ndstmoon.org.
The company kicks off their 15th season with Kurt Weill's One Touch of Venus on October 25.