Theater Review: Hot ‘N Cole is more cold than hot

Michelle Hoffman | Special for The Republic | January 18, 2007

CAVE CREEK – Ah, the fashionable musical revue. Almost every theater company trots out at least one every season or two (read “cha-ching”). For theatrical purists, the paper-thin plots might be a turnoff, but for that larger dichotomy of entertainment-seeking folks, revues rock.

Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story mimes the last three years of the singer’s life into a story that showcases his toe-tapping music. It’s mostly concert with some theater thrown in for musical context.

Same with Ella, currently at the Herberger Theater Center, about jazz great Ella Fitzgerald. Who wouldn’t want to hear all those fantabulous songs while caught up in the true-life trials and tribulations of the famous jazz singer. It’s like when your high school history teacher played a video in lieu of a lecture.

However, the Desert Foothills Theatre production “Hot ‘N Cole: A Cole Porter Celebration, playing through Jan. 28 at the Cactus Shadows Fine Arts Center, is music straight-up sans the story or even narration.

It’s interesting, since many of Porter’s songs were autobiographical. Porter also was an alumnus of the Lost Generation, party-hearty, Parisian-based expatriates that included the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

But the most compelling aspect of his personal life was his 35-year marriage to Linda Lee Thomas, a classy, well-heeled beauty who was his muse. The twist is that Porter was gay and had many affairs, but they stayed married until she died.

Yet none of this is revealed in Hot ‘N Cole, as is the design of this revue.

So without any historical context or nary a story line, there needs to be something more here to give the show some theatrically resonating texture, rather than performers sitting around a piano harmonizing.

Alas, there was not. There is little dancing, and the actors sing while sitting on stools or standing side-by-side. It’s a lackluster setup.

The lighting was ho-hum, and the set – kitschy gold curtains splotched with lights – was so uninspiring that it helped neutralize the performance.

But the evening isn’t a complete loss. The cast, all accomplished singers (and, as seen in other productions, have talent beyond what was displayed here), sang all of the favorites with spot-on harmonizing, particularly De-Lovely, Love For Sale, and In the Still of the Night.

The emotional stimulus of the evening came from a little-known work of Porter’s. Broth of a Boy, a hauntingly sweet ballad about the untimely death of children, was written for a movie that never saw the light of day.

If you’re a true Cole Porter-phile and wish for nothing more than to hear his great body of work sung live, then it might just be worth your $22.

Director and choreographer Dee Dee Wood, and actress Shannon Wallace are from Cave Creek. Actress Valerie Saunders is from Scottsdale.

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