Theatre Mirror Reviews - "You Never Know"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2006 by Carl A. Rossi


"YOU NEVER KNOW"

music and lyrics by Cole Porter,
based on the original play “By Candlelight”
by Siegfried Geyer, Karl Farkas and Robert Katscher,
as adapted by Rowleigh Leigh; additional adaptations by Paul Lazarus

directed by Caitlin Lowans
musical direction by Judy Hayward
choreographed by Leah Joseph

Barron Rommer … Sean McGuirk
Gaston … Steve Gagliastro
Madame Baltin … Shannon Mühs
Ida … Leigh Barrett
Maria … Sarah Corey
Herr Baltin … Robert Saoud

Orchestra:

Violin … Matthew Demeusy
Percussion … Mick Lewander
Horn … Deb Walz
Reeds … Arthur Bakopolous

There once was a time when regional theatres produced only box office sureties: their audiences’ palettes were not as cultivated as they are today and the artistry was of the mom-and-pop school (my own acting days began and ended in such a milieu); today’s regional productions have become more professional, the bills of fare more varied and, hopefully, the audiences more sophisticated. Take Cole Porter’s YOU NEVER KNOW: not so long ago, a regional theatre would never have produced what Mr. Porter considered to be his worst musical and which died a quick death in 1938 (Mr. Porter had recently suffered the accident that would cost him a leg; no doubt, his mind was on other things), but the Stoneham Theatre has mounted a 1991 revision, cast with Boston talent (another test of regional theatre’s new prestige) and the results are entertaining, to say the least. The screwball plot consists of mistaken identities and crisscrossing seductions led by the Baron Rommer and his butler Gaston, and Mr. Porter’s score includes “From Alpha to Omega” and “At Long Last Love” with “Let’s Misbehave” added for extra oomph (Mr. Porter’s cocktail persona belies the fact that he was the most carnal of Broadway songwriters). On the afternoon I attended, the Stoneham audience hugely enjoyed itself --- and so will Bostonians should they make the trek.

YOU NEVER KNOW is a vehicle, pure and simple, and Caitlin Lowans and her sextet drive it like a purring Rolls Royce. From the bottom up, Robert Saoud, playing a jealous husband, has little to do but wear an amusing wig; Shannon Mühs as his wife and the Baron’s love interest disappears only minutes into the show but returns at the end to charm with her willowy presence; Leigh Barrett is surprisingly funny as the Baron’s soon-to-be ex and her knockout rendition of what I believe to be “I’m Back in Circulation” (no song listings in the program) is a huge advance over her fussy “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” from last season’s PAL JOEY; should Ms. Barrett choose, she could develop into that rare bird: a ladylike vaudevillian, Camp-free. Sean McGuirk as the Baron is positively weightless, he is so polished --- and he supplies the necessary (white) class distinctions that 1938 audiences took for granted but which 2006 (white) audiences have never known. If Ms. Barrett is a diva with a shady eye, Steve Gagliastro’s Gaston personifies baggy-pants burlesque --- he does more of the same twitching and mugging that he did in the recent KONG’S NIGHT OUT but, fortunately, he is very good at it. The Messrs. McGuirk and Gagliastro’s scenes together hint at what a pair of DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS they could become but even nicer is Mr. Gagliastro’s other pairing with leading lady Sarah Corey who now adds new colors to her palette each time I see her; the SpeakEasy’s CAROLINE OR CHANGE displayed Ms. Corey's dramatic singing talents --- here, she releases a breathtaking range from Broadway belt to silvery operetta and when she and Mr. Gagliastro go through their song-and-dances, you see a musical comedy team in the making: more 1930s Porter, perhaps?

I worry for Mr. Gagliastro, though, dashing through Jeremy Barnett’s Art Deco setting: the stage left and right doorways have inner rooms set at angles so that he must exit within at breakneck speed, zig to the left, then zag to the right --- also, whenever anyone troupes across the stage or up and down the stairs the hollow boom of plywood is heard, not the cold click of marble. I could say that the Baron’s dwelling is also in on the masquerade but that would be stretching it…

"You Never Know" (14 Septembe r -1 October)
STONEHAM THEATRE
395 Main Street, STONEHAM, MA
1 (781) 279-2200

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