Thanks to the tenacity of a director and a talented cast, fans of Cole Porter can get to know the composer's 1937 musical, "You Never Know," currently getting first-rate treatment at Prince George's Little Theatre at the Bowie Playhouse.
The legendary lyricist and master tunesmith's farcical comedy is an exciting, charming close to the Little Theatre's 53rd season.
Production director Roy Hammond says his love affair with the show dates back 16 years, when he discovered a CD of "You Never Know" in a Hollywood record shop. He became so enchanted that he acquired the script, then submitted the play for consideration at every theater where he directed.
The first nibble came at the Greenbelt Arts Center for its 2004-2005 season. The Prince George's Little Theatre production is Hammond's second outing with the show, and he has recruited music director Joe Biddle and choreographer Richelle "Rikki" Howie — both of whom worked on the earlier Greenbelt version — to join him here, along with many of the same orchestra members.
Originally produced in Europe in 1937 as a chamber musical with a small cast and a single set, the show went on to Broadway in 1938, with a larger cast in a big musical format that apparently did not suit it. It closed after a brief run.
Back to its roots and intended scale, this rehabilitated version works well in Bowie Playhouse. The show features Porter songs including "By Candlelight," "I'm Back in Circulation," "I'm Going in for Love" and, most memorably, "At Long Last Love," said to have been completed by Porter while he was laid up after a riding accident crushed both of his legs. For added sparkle, Porter's "Let's Misbehave" and "Ridin' High" are added.
The story is set on a single night in 1929 in the Paris apartment of the wealthy Baron Romer, who is involved with three attractive women — one of whom has a jealous husband. The baron asks his valet, Gaston, to cancel his engagement with one woman so he can entertain another. Delightful mishaps and mistaken identities ensue.
Contributing to this production is the smart, deep-purple set designed by Dan Lavanga — so deluxe that Porter himself might have felt at home here; all of the furnishings reflect a romantic, upper-class Parisian lifestyle.
Musical director Biddle brings the score to life from the very first bright notes of the orchestra's overture. The production offers each singer a sensitivity that accents their skills. Among noteworthy numbers is the clever Maria-Gaston duet, "From Alpha to Omega," containing a playful list of names of Jazz Age celebrities reminiscent of "You're the Top."
Choreographer Howie creates swinging routines, from soft-shoe and tap to the Charleston and ballroom dance, all well executed by the cast. Costumes designed by Linda Swann help define each character with appropriate elegance and lend enough sparkle to elevate a parlor maid to splendid lady.
The six-member cast works as a tight unit. Although the role of sultry, saucy, scorned Ida is not large, Angela Sullivan impresses, showing that she knows her way around a song in "I'm Back in Circulation."
Nora Biddle embraces the role of Madame Baltin, captivating Baron Romer and delivering a charming sophistication to the title song, "You Never Know." As husband Herr Baltin, Jim Adams is a formidable comic presence who is convincingly fearsome when angered and fiercely funny when not.
Maria, the maid, is skillfully played by Christa Kronser, lending magic to her costume while proving herself an adroit comedian, dancer and singer.
Bowie native Michael Iacone makes a memorable PGLT debut as Gaston, playing both the valet and the pretend count. Iacone is a skilled comic and a capable dancer, and possesses one of the best singing voices in the cast. He does justice to every song, whether solo, duet, trio.
Firmly in control is Baron Romer, portrayed by Ken Kemp. He captivates the cast's trio of women and most of the audience with charm, comic timing and a lightness in dance that seems akin to Fred Astaire. Kemp invests his songs with warm appeal, from "By Candlelight" to the show-stopping "At Long Last Love."
Romer renews the life in Porter's lyrics: "Is it an earthquake, or simply a shock? Is it the good turtle soup, or merely the mock?"
The Prince George's Little Theatre's production of Cole Porter's "You Never Know" runs through May 18 at Bowie Playhouse at White Marsh Park, 16500 White Marsh Park Drive, Bowie. For tickets and additional information, call the box office at 301-937-7458 or go to PGLT.org.