When one considers that Cole Porter wrote nearly 900 songs in a career that spanned almost 50 years, it's easy to understand why author Brendan Gill wrote that “the list of hits is so long that it threatens to become simply a list and therefore to strike us as less fantastic than it really is.”
Porter had few rivals when it came to composing top-drawer Broadway songs, countless examples of which perfectly captured emotions ranging from poignance and longing to joy and humor. But his music also suggested the perfumed byways of Paris and the frozen tundras of Siberia.
The Oklahoma City Philharmonic recently paid tribute to this iconic songwriter who always managed to blend music and lyrics with perfection. With Broadway regulars Beth Leavel and Ted Keegan lending ample star power, it was an evening of musical delights.
Keegan, a singer known for his commanding performances as the title character in “The Phantom of the Opera,” demonstrated a voice that could be silky and sultry in Ron Abel's spectacular arrangement of “In the Still of the Night,” and showed his skill in capturing the Gallic appeal of “You Don't Know Paree.”
In “You're the Top,” a classic Porter list song from 1934's “Anything Goes,” Keegan and Leavel illustrated their flair for comedy as they took turns praising each other with topical references that brought into sharp focus the composer's remarkable gift for rhyming.
Leavel, a Tony Award winner for her role in 2006's “The Drowsy Chaperone,” immediately won over the audience with Porter's “Ridin' High,” a glorious number in which she exuded an infectious blend of joy and humor.
A masterful comedienne, Leavel toyed seductively with a quartet of male singers in “My Heart Belongs to Daddy” and then proved her ability to whip both a musical number and the audience into a frenzy with the revivalistic anthem “Blow, Gabriel, Blow.”
Leavel and Keegan's efforts were further enhanced by marvelous contributions from Joel Levine and the orchestra, most notably through some spectacular charts by such accomplished arrangers as Jack Everly, Fred Barton and Larry Blank, the latter also providing the attractive and lively “A Cole Porter Festival Overture.”
Ben Williams found an abundance of sly humor in “Thank You So Much, Mrs. Lowsborough-Goodby,” a number in which a guest recounts what he'd really like to have said in a letter of thanks for a miserable weekend party he attended.
Ballroom dancers Savannah Hawkins and Dan Horn added dazzling visual appeal to Keegan's attractive rendering of “Begin the Beguine.” The Philharmonic Pops Chorale and a dance quartet known as The Time-Steppers were equally impressive with their respective talents.
There's a lyric from “Can-Can” in which Porter spoke of “the wrong song in the wrong style.”
As evidenced by the orchestra's musically satisfying “Cole Porter Songbook,” that was never an issue Porter had to worry about. His music was “Oh, so easy to love.”
— Rick Rogers