While Cole Porter's Kiss Me, Kate was revived in the West End in 2001, and his Anything Goes is currently a hit at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, few of the other 20 or so major Broadway musicals that he wrote in a professional career spanning some five decades have proved to be viable properties that are capable of being revived today (even Anything Goes is presented in a new, extensively revised version). While they almost routinely contain individual song classics that live on in the popular cabaret repertoire of the Great American Songbook, the shows themselves were very much of their period, mostly the late 20s to the early 50s, and sadly forgotten.
But it's amazing how rich and gleaming a throwaway 1950 musical, Out of this World, turns out to be as it finally receives its British, fully-staged professional premiere at Chichester Festival Theatre, launching the summer season there with an air of intoxicating insouciance and blithe assurance.
Once again the problematic book that caused the show to flop fast on Broadway when it was originally premiered in 1950 has been revised, with new contributions from San Francisco's Greg MacKellan (for a production there in 2000) and now Britain's Jeremy Sams, but they have been true to the show's zany screwball origins that has the spiritual worlds of the gods of Mount Olympus taking on human form to take corporeal pleasures on earth.
No one ever wrote about sex with such relish and wit as Porter, and this musical - based on Plautus' Amphitryon - is drenched in melody as well as unbridled passions. Most everyone's after someone, a train of lust set into blissful motion by the god Jupiter (Nicolas Colicos) as he pursues a Hollywood starlet, Helen Vance (Fiona Dunn). While Jupiter's son Mercury (Richard Dempsey) comes to earth to make the arrangements - and quickly dispenses with the husband Helen has recently married - Mercury takes up with a young American girl, Chloe (Clare Foster), living in Athens, too. But as Jupiter's wife Juno complains in a wonderful catalogue song of animal and other couplings, "Nobody's chasing me" (unless you count the unexpected lesbian frisson of a Hollywood gossip columnist's interest in her)!
Along the way, there are some quite lovely, mostly unfamiliar songs, and a degree of lyrical wit and intelligence that elevates the dizzying plot to true delight. Martin Duncan's effervescent Chichester production is also superbly carried off by a cast that can actually sing, and comic acting from Anne Reid (as Juno) and Darlene Johnson (as the Hedda Hopper-like Isadora St John) that also doesn't just lift the spirits but also lifts the roof off.
This is scintillating, splendid stuff. Bravo!
- Mark Shenton