Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, August, 2002
This is a good news/bad news review. The good news is that there is a lot to like in the production of “Can-Can” currently running at the Theater Barn. I had fun and I bet you will too. But there are some things in the show that are unaccountably bad, and those rather obvious faults give the entire production the air of a really good high school show, instead of a gem of a little theatre production.
Here’s what is good:
1) Artistic director Bert Bernardi, who is also the director of this production, has done area audiences a real service by selecting and staging this little-known later work of Cole Porter’s. Can-Can is not one Porter’s most sparkling scores, but even mediocre Porter is pretty darned good, and the hits from this show – C’est Magnifique, I Love Paris, and It’s All Right By Me – are worth waiting for.
2) Debra Pitkin is a commanding presence as La Mome Pistache, and she gave me goose bumps when she belted out I Love Paris.
3) Seneca Burr and Matthew Daly made me laugh out loud as rivals for the affection of one of the Can-Can girls. They headed up a talented and funny male contingent that included Jason Nettle, Robert McCaffrey, and Dylan Kumara Widjioni.
4) Two thirds of Jimmy Johansmeyer’s costumes are absolutely fabulous, and they blend beautifully with the riotous colors of Abe Phelps stunning set that pays homage to Toulouse Lautrec. These guys are Artists with a capital A and the Theater Barn is lucky to have them.
And here’s what’s bad:
1) Jeff Slootz is a wooden and dismal leading man. There were big gaps of air while Pitkin would wait for him to do something, like act. He either wouldn’t or couldn’t attempt an out-RAY-geous French accent like the rest of the cast, and when another character looked at him and asked if he was sure he was really French, it seemed a salient question. Thank goodness he sings on key.
2) The choreography (and there are only two big dance numbers) is uninspired and the female chorus is barely up to the task of performing it. Choreographer Daniel Haley has some good credits on his resume and I expected more.
3) Twice there were notably bad props in evidence – once when Slootz headed out of court with the ugliest old briefcase I have ever seen, and again when Pitkin and Slootz drank cognac out of old-fashioned glasses. Details like that are so easy to fix and so annoying to witness.
4) The other third of Johansmeyer’s costumes, notably the ones worn during the first half hour of the show. The poor female chorus appeared for the opening number dressed like the whores in Threepenny Opera. This is not 1920’s Berlin, this is Paris in 1893, and no woman, regardless of her profession, would have appeared in public without a skirt on.
So, you take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have…an uneven but enjoyable night at the theatre. Despite my remarks about the choreography, there are a lot of colorful skirts being flung in the air and legs being vigorously kicked as high as they can go, which give the right aura of naughty fun. In fact there is much less dancing in this show than you would expect given the title, and so the weak choreography is much less of a detriment to the overall success of the production.
I was struck by how very well what must have once been a BIG Broadway musical (Can-Can opened in 1953, before having a cast of thousands became prohibitively expensive) fit into the tiny confines of the Theater Barn. I thought perhaps they had made substantial cuts, but a review of the songs listed on the original cast recording revealed only one number that wasn’t performed. I bet Cole Porter and Abe Burrows would be extremely surprised to discover that they had written such a charming “little” show.
Can-Can runs through August 18 at The Theater Barn, located on Rt. 20 just west of the town of New Lebanon, NY. The show runs two hours with one intermission and is suitable for the whole family. Call the box office at 518-794-8989 for tickets and information.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2002