Lost Musicals: Can-Can

Music and lyrics by Cole Porter, book by Abe Burrows

Bailiff / Doctor – Alex Browne
Policeman / Hercule – Ahmet Ahmet
Judge Paul Barriere – Fabio Tassone
Court President / Boris Adzinidzinadze – James Vaughan
Judge Aristide Forestier – Christopher Dickins
Claudine – Selina Chilton
Marie – Sarah Applewood
Celestine – Joanna Fell
Gabrielle – Lara Denning
Hilaire Jussac – Stewart Permutt
Theophile – Chris Stanton
Etienne – David Phipps-Davis
Waitress / Model – Myra Sands
La Mome Pistache – Valerie Cutko

Mark Etherington – Music Director
Ian Marshall Fisher – Director

Presented by Lost Musicals

Reviewed by: Michael Darvell

Reviewed: 8 April, 2007
Venue: Lilian Baylis Theatre, Sadler’s Wells, Islington, London

Since 1989, the “Lost Musicals” seasons at the Theatre Museum, the Fortune Theatre, the Barbican Centre, the Royal Opera House and lately the Lilian Baylis Theatre at Sadler’s Wells have resurrected umpteen ‘lost’ or rarely performed musicals (mostly American), some of which have received their UK premieres in these semi-staged concert versions.

Shows have included Cole Porter’s “Jubilee”, “Out of This World”, “Du Barry was a lady” and “Silk stockings”, Gershwin’s “Strike up the band” and “Of thee I sing”, Kurt Weill’s “One touch of Venus” and “Love life”, Richard Rodgers’s & Stephen Sondheim’s “Do I hear a waltz?” and Sondheim’s “Evening primrose”, among many others. These celebrations of composers, lyricists and authors always use the original music, lyrics and books.

This season both shows are by Cole Porter. In June it will be his version of Jules Verne’s “Around the World in 80 Days”, with a book and direction by Orson Welles who also starred. The production ran for a mere 75 performances on Broadway in 1946 and never came to London.

This month’s choice, “Can-Can”, was a runaway success by comparison. Written in 1953 it ran for two years on Broadway and had a good London run. The US and UK revivals in 1988 were less successful, perhaps due to the re-structuring of the book and songs, while the 1960 film version with Frank Sinatra, Shirley MacLaine and Maurice Chevalier bore no resemblance to the original show.

“Can-Can” has a good pedigree. Apart from Cole Porter’s score and lyrics, not his best work but with songs such as ‘C’est magnifique’, ‘I am in love’, ‘It’s all right with me’, ‘I love Paris’ and the title song, it was certainly better than most shows at the time. The book and direction were by Abe Burrows who had previously written “Guys and Dolls” and went on to write “Silk stockings”, “How to succeed in business…” and “Cactus flower”.

If “Can-Can” lacks the riotous humour of “Guys and Dolls”, well, in Damon Runyon, Burrows had a masterly template to work on. To gain authenticity for “Can-Can”, a story about the real-life banning of the high-kicking dance in Paris in the 1890s, Burrows went to Paris to study court records of the time. In the show La Mome Pistache is worried about her club being closed if she continues with her can-can dancers, so she tries to seduce the local judge, Aristide, but they fall in love and the judge has to defend himself. A sub-plot concerns Boris, a Bulgarian sculptor, and other artists, in satirical swipes on modern art and poetry, the humour of which is sometimes now a little dated.

In the original production the part of Pistache was taken by Lilo, a French actress who could not understand English. Porter was so taken with her, however, that she had some phonetic coaching and was a success in the role. Ian Marshall Fisher’s production has Valerie Cutko, so good in “Silk stockings” when produced by “Lost Musicals”, as Pistache and she proves again what a star she is in musical comedy. She also gets to sing some of the best numbers in the show such as ‘Never give anything away’, ‘C’est magnifique’, ‘Live and let live’, ‘Allez-vous en’, ‘I love Paris’ and ‘Can-Can’. Christopher Dickins is also very good in the part of Judge Aristide Forestier, and manages the most difficult song in the show, ‘I am in love’, with great feeling. James Vaughan’s Boris the sculptor (originally Hans Conried) gives him plenty of opportunity to air his comedic skills, while Stewart Permutt gives another of his broad comedy performances as art critic Hilaire Jussac (Erik Rhodes in 1953).

What is missing is Michael Kidd’s original choreography and Gwen Verdon as Claudine who in 1953 had an apache dance and a ‘Garden of Eden’ ballet in her first Broadway role. In fact she stopped the show and the rest is choreographic history. “Can-Can” ends with the title number which have some of Porter’s wittiest rhymes in one of his best ‘list’ songs that ends with: “If a rhino with a crash can / If a hippo with a splash can / If an elm and an oak and an ash can / Baby, you can can-can too.”

  • Performances on Sundays in April (1, 8, 15, 22, 29) at 4 p.m.
  • Ticket details on 0870 737 7737
  • “Around the World in 80 Days” is on June 10, 17 & 24, and July 1 & 8 at 4 p.m.
  • Lost Musicals

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