Can-Can (1953) by Cole Porter and Abe Burrows is a vintage Golden Age musical, but in sporadic revivals it has not aged well. Undaunted, Broadway Theatre of Pitman brings Can-Can back into the spotlight. Under director John D. Smitherman, the production is energetic, Kate Orlando’s choreography is inventive, and Thom Sirkot’s costumes are eye-catching.
But how do you breathe life into Burrows’ stale book? Problem: two unrelated romances share the stage. The main character, prudish Judge Aristide (Michael Doheny), wants to shut down the can-can show but becomes enthralled with La Mome Pistache (Angie Fennell). At the same time, Boris (Tim Garner), a comically corrupt Bulgarian sculptor, woos dancer Claudine (Lauryn Morgan Thomas).
Aristide’s struggle with his erotic side is trite and undeveloped. As though to escape his tedium, Burrows keeps bringing Boris on stage. Garner nicely milks all of Boris’ vaudevillian gags. But we see so much of him that the comic relief figure becomes the show. Art critic Hilaire (Dave Gold), girlfriend Claudine, and other onlookers are just foils for Boris’ foolishness. By default, “hero” Aristide becomes the foil for everyone.
Cole Porter does his part. Gorgeous songs like “I Love Paris,” “It’s All Right with Me,” and “C’est Magnifique” have become standalone classics. But there is no marriage of drama and music, never a moment where you feel Aristide and Pistache are so overcome they abandon speech and burst into song.
With the help of Sirkot’s costumes, Fennell’s Pistache is an exotic presence, a sensual operator who spins Aristide around like a top. Doheny is not as lucky with Aristide, a character too watery to make engaging. Both Fennell and Doheny belt out Cole Porter in an uninflected way, adding to your sense that the songs in Can-Can are not truly organic to the story.
Orlando’s choreography is more integral. The can-can dance has become so routinized that, like a music box, it almost plays itself. But Orlando shines with her Adam and Eve sequence. Alyssa Arcangeli is a strikingly balletic Eve, and Brooke McCarthy is one sexy snake. Adam is irrelevant, even when awake – a sly poke at Aristide?
Burrows’ book is an excuse to parade a series of jokes, skits, songs, and dances, essentially music hall fare. If you like music hall (nothing wrong with that), the Broadway Pitman production has lots of flash. But if you are looking for an involving musical story like Sweeney Todd or Cabaret, you are in for a long night.
Through May 13 at the Broadway Theatre of Pitman, 43 S. Broadway, Pitman, N.J. Tickets: $28. Information: 856-389-2057, PitmanBroadwayTheatre.com.