Walnut Street Theatre opens its 207th Season with Cole Porter’s , High Society. Based on the 1939 stage comedy, “The Philadelphia Story” by Phillip Barry and the 1956 musical movie, “High Society”, the show features a score by Cole Porter with additional lyrics by Susan Birkenhead and a book by Arthur Kopit.
Opening on Broadway in 1998, it was nominated for two Tony and four Drama Desk Awards. It features songs from the 1956 film and from Porter’s earlier works such as, Let’s Misbehave, Just One of Those Things, What is This Thing Called Love?,Well, Did You Evah! and True Love.
Wealthy socialite, Traci Lord, plans her lavish wedding to the rich, George Kittredge as her ex-husband, Dexter, appears on the scene to try and woo her back. Tabloid reporter, Macaulay “Mike” Connor, who is on the case to report the proceedings, has also become enamored with the dazzling Traci. As the day of the wedding approaches we are on tenterhooks as to who the ultra-desirable Traci will choose.
As this is the basic plot, our leading lady needs to not only have three men hopelessly in love with her, but must win over the audience as well. Unfortunately, such is not the case in this production. For all her statuesque blonde beauty, Megan Nicole Arnoldy’s, characterization of Traci comes off as harsh and petulant and not goddess-like at all. Nor does her voice thrill us in any way. Conversely, Paul Shaefer is completely disarming as Chester C.K. Haven, Traci’s hopeful ex, though his voice is just competent. Jon Reinhold (though stylistically, he seems to be in another show) is quite winning as the uptight George Kittredge with a big, pleasing, powerful voice. Dan Olmstead and Grace Gonglewski as Traci’s estranged parents bring a needed level of realistic class and grace to this upper crust family that seems to be reeling out of control. And Alexis Gwynn does a fine job as Dinah, Traci’s younger, yet, “too old for her age”, sister. But the two actors who steal the show are Jennie Lee Stern as Liz Imbrie, the soubrette and Ben Dibble as Macaulay “Mike” Connor, the supporting man. Ms. Stern attacks the role of Liz, the photographer who’s in love with Mike, with a sure comedic grip. She is funny, adorable and brandishes a voice that hits all the bells and whistles. Silver throated Mr. Dibble is simply delicious as the earnest Mike, and together Dibble and Stern turn the number Who Wants to Be a Millionaire into a show-stopper.
The chorus, dressed as maids and butlers, works especially hard, singing and dancing through many reprises all night long. So it’s disappointing that the choreography they are required to execute is neither inventive nor exciting. However, the eight piece orchestra conducted by Douglass G. Lutz is exciting to listen to. And in this day and age of synthesized music, it is quite a refreshing treat.
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