The Stage Door Players current production of Cole Porter’s High Society, based on the classic play and film The Philadelphia Story, is a perfect example of how even an immensely talented cast can’t completely overcome uninspired material, and how even legends can hit a lackluster note from time to time. Led by the exceptionally appealing Galen Crawley, who shines as the high society bride-to-be, Tracy Lord, the cast performs admirably, with strong vocals, entertaining choreography, and occasional bursts of humor.
Much of the show’s issues can be traced to the fact that the current version takes Porter’s 1956 film adaptation, adds a book by Arthur Kopit, and interpolates Porter songs originally written for other shows and movies, leaving the cast to navigate unnecessarily convoluted plots, unclear character motivations, and songs that don’t advance the plot. The Porter songs found in High Society don’t consistently possess the humor of Anything Goes (which has also interpolated and removed Porter songs throughout the decades), nor the intelligence of Kiss Me Kate. However, the show succeeds as a cute and sweet slice of nostalgia, but it is not the engrossing, entertaining whirlwind for which Porter is most known.
Rather than belaboring the missteps of a musical theater genius, let’s focus on the positives, which most certainly are found in the terrifically enjoyable cast, evident from the show’s opening moments. The Lord family servants (Caleigh Allen, Trey Getz, Anthony Owen, and Kelly Chapin Schmidt), who often steal the show with great vocals, footwork, and humor (especially on the hilarious “Let’s Misbehave”), introduce us to the majority of the cast as they prepare for Tracy’s impending nuptials.
Tracy’s mother, Margaret, played with a familiar upper-class air by Kathleen McCook, puts the finishing touches on the wedding plans when loveable, but absent-minded, woman-chaser Uncle Willie, played with a contagious youthful zeal by Robert Wayne, is informed that he will be hosting a 700-guest ball later that evening. Despite the wedding being just 24 hours away, mischievous younger sister Dinah (Hope Valls) is overjoyed when Tracy’s ex-husband C.K. Dexter Haven returns unexpectedly after being gone for over a year. As Haven, Jeremy Wood is incredibly likeable, displaying a smooth triple-threat charm. His suave, carefree demeanor stands in stark contrast with Tracy’s new intended, George Kittredge. The uptight, but well-meaning, social climber is played by Christopher Lewis, who sings “I Worship You” with equal parts humor and vocal power.
The typical Porter hijinks begin when tabloid reporter and photographer Mike Connor (Jeremy Varner) and Liz Imbrie (Caitlin Smith) arrive posing as friends of a non-existent cousin Jason. As Connor becomes yet another love interest for Tracy, we see Varner croon impressively, and Smith shows why she is quickly becoming one of Atlanta’s musical theater favorites. She has a flair for comedy and belts like a star. Rounding out the talented ensemble is George Deavours, who is also the production’s wig designer, as Tracy’s adulterous father Seth.
At the romantic center of the show, the tension between Haven and Tracy, is palpable from the start. However, with the ensuing shenanigans, the strength of their connection is often left in question, and one begins to wonder, whether these two will ever end up back together. Additionally, at times, you see hints that Haven has masterminded the mad-capped happenings, but most of the time, it appears that he is nothing more than an interested observer. These issues leave you somewhat unsure as to just who these characters are at heart, but on the strength of Crawley and Wood’s performances, it doesn’t seem to matter.
Directed by Producing Artistic Director Robert Egizio, High Society moves swiftly through the convoluted script, with the aid of clever choreography by Jen MacQueen. Also worth noting is the simple, effective, and elegant set design by Chuck Welcome that evolves with each setting in a unique storybook fashion.
High Society is playing at Stage Door Players through August 5. For ticket information visit the theater’s website or call 770-396-1726.
– Matt Tamanini