Cole Porter, Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse’s 1936 musical “Red, Hot and Blue!” hasn’t exactly been inundated with revivals since its original Broadway run of a so-so 183 performances. It’s easy to see why: The book is a trial and an error, and the score is only fitfully top-drawer Porter. The Goodspeed Opera House has given the show a total overhaul for its production. The book has been revised, and a slew of songs were tossed out and replaced with better-known Porter tunes. Alas, without a cast equivalent to the original’s Ethel Merman, Jimmy Durante and Bob Hope, the resulting production never really comes into focus.
The show is at its exhilarating best during an overture that’s sung and danced by a quintet of male jailbirds “conducted” by a sixth prisoner, Policy Pickle (Ben Lipitz). As the men step through elastic prison bars to strut their stuff in a medley of “It’s De-Lovely” and “Ridin’ High,” Policy chats up the audience from the theater floor before giving the pit band the downbeat. In fact, these six uniformed convicts are the show’s main saving grace, with Lipitz, in the comedy role created by Durante, giving the most assured performance.
Unfortunately Michael Leeds’ book revisions and direction don’t live up to this sparkling overture. Next up are two “comic” songs from the original score, “It Ain’t Etiquette” and “Perennial Debutantes,” that fall flat. Indeed it isn’t until almost an hour into act one that the production picks up again with full-scale versions of the two tunes from the overture (both also from the original score).
Act two remains blurred, with one or two brighter spots supplied by interpolated songs “Just One of Those Things,” “Most Gentlemen Don’t Like Love” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” The charming “Goodbye, Little Dream, Goodbye,” cut from the original score, is reinstated. Adding in standards is in fact a double-edged sword, since they’ve been recorded by so many great song stylists that the Goodspeed’s cast can’t cut it by comparison.
For the production, the Goodspeed proscenium has been emblazoned with a waffle iron print, which brings us to the book. The main thrust of the plot concerns a nationwide search for a young woman with a waffled bottom (she sat on a waffle iron when she was little). It’s a slender conceit, and even the raunchy humor falls flat.
The bulk of the cast lacks the audience-wowing impact such a musical needs. In the Merman role of Nails, a millionaire’s widow from the wrong side of the tracks, Debbie Gravitte doesn’t have the essential sock-it-to-’em panache.
So it goes almost all down the line. It’s not that the performers lack talent; it’s just that virtually none seems quite right for his or her role. In the cliched role of Peaches, a New Yorker with a voice and accent that would demolish glass, Robin Baxter settles for a shrieking cliche.
“The New Red Hot and Blue” has gaudy sets and even gaudier ’30s costumes. The dancing, which includes tap, is certainly vigorous, but once again Porteresque sophistication is missing. Overall, “The New Red Hot and Blue” would still seem to have all the basic problems of the old “Red, Hot and Blue!”