New Yorkers often mistakenly assume that there are no theatres of consequence outside New York, even though much of their product originates outside the city. People in Los Angeles may be unaware that there are over 65 theatres in LA alone, not to mention the many theatres that lie in the outskirts and provide employment for the greater pool of talent. I have been to some of these theatres, The Old Globe, La Jolla, South Coast Rep, and Musical Theatre West to name but a few, but now, for the first time, I was invited to go to Downey, California to introduce myself to the Downey Civic Light Opera.
Downey Civic Light Opera has been under the excellent leadership of Marsha Moode, who happened to direct the current offering, Cole, which celebrates the music and life of Cole Porter. I thought that this suburban audience might not take to the uber-sophisticated, urbane musical genius, but the audience ate it up.
Cole, a revue devised by Benny Green and Alan Strachan, features over 50 songs by Porter and also presents an outline of his biography, especially his relationship with his beloved wife Linda with whom he had an enduring, albeit unusual relationship (Porter was also homosexual). The musical covers his music more or less chronologically, presented by a skilled cast of 35.
The show stars William T. Lewis as Cole Porter. He is very good in the role and has just the right touch. Charlotte Carpenter plays his wife Linda and exhibits class, style, and a lovely singing voice. Audience favorite Laura Dickinson portrays Ethel Merman who figured so prominently in Cole’s musical career, introducing many of his “hits.” Robert Standley, though a bit stiff, plays Cole’s friend Gerald Murphy and sings many of Cole’s most notable ballads. Gabe and Mindy Copeland provide some fine tapping accompanying “Begin the Beguine.” The chorus is also very good, displaying some fine voices and moves. Talented Nathan Wise choreographed those moves. Jimmy Vann is the musical director and conductor.
Cole will play on weekends through March 4 at Downey Civic Light Opera.