At words poetic, he was anything but pathetic. Cole Porter was, to paraphrase the man himself, the top – a Bendel bonnet, a Shakespeare sonnet…he was Mickey Mouse!
Now a whole new generation is reveling in Porter’s brilliance. The San Francisco Arts Education Project Players, a troupe of Bay Area kids ranging in age from 9 to 15, will perform more than 30 of his songs in Everything Goes! The Music of Cole Porter an original revue having its world premiere Feb. 4-13, 2011 at the Eureka Theatre in San Francisco.
SFArtsED Artistic Director Emily Keeler and Danny Duncan, the director of Everything Goes!, usually perform traditional musicals from the Broadway canon, shows like The Pajama Game, The Music Man or last year’s hit, Fiorello. But with 54 kids in this year’s troupe, a book musical was too limiting and wouldn’t give the members of the ensemble enough to do.
So Keeler and Duncan decided to put together an original revue as they had done in 2004 with Secret Sondheim. They realized that in 10 years of doing shows with the Players, they had never done any Cole Porter.
“The sophistication of Porter’s work and his diversity of material really appealed to us,” Keeler says. “Mr. Porter sets the bar pretty high.”
Duncan feels strongly that the kids are up to the challenge of Porter’s complex rhythm and lyrics. “This material can be difficult for adults,” Duncan says. “I knew it would be a challenge for the kids, but a challenge they would inevitably rise to. That’s what this organization does – it exposes kids to the lessons of real musical theater.”
Among the songs being performed are some of Porter’s best known, including “In the Still of the Night” sung a cappella by the entire cast, “Night and Day,” “I Love Paris” and “Begin the Beguine.” The revue also features some lesser-known Porter tunes such as “Live and Let Live” and “The Ritz Rock and Roll.”
“Rehearsals have been a great process,” says Keeler, who has been with SFArtsED since 1985. “The kids love the word play, love the music and the humor. They also appreciate the sound and beauty of the music.”
When the entire ensemble was working on “In the Still of the Night,” Duncan, Keeler and Musical Director Diana Lee asked the kids what the song meant to them.
“We asked them what it means to sing, ‘In the still of the night, as I lay without slumber.’ And they got pretty much everything the song is about,” Duncan says. “They understood it’s about life, beauty, subtlety, caring about somebody. This material is really an education for them.”
Musical Director Lee, working on her fourth show with the Players, sees the young performers embracing Porter’s songs.
“The diversity of his styles is so wonderful – there are hilarious comic songs and these incredibly beautiful love songs,” Lee says. “There’s something to appeal to every kid. Some want to be funny, some want to be dramatic so they all get what they want. I think what they’re really appreciating is how carefully Porter matches lyric to melody. He was just brilliant.”
During performances at the Eureka, Lee will play piano alongside a band that includes five additional players on bass, drums, saxophone, trumpet and trombone. This is the first Players Cole Porter show and its first shiny brass section.
“We all feel lucky to get to spend this amount of time with Porter’s work,” Keeler says. “He’s a singer’s musician. He really is. Even his melodies tell stories. He’s a fine craftsman, and it’s wonderful to watch the kids learn and inhabit this material. I think it’s teaching things, unconsciously, that they need to learn as artists. We love being around that.”
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