By: Paulanne Simmons
October 14, 2019: As the name implies, “The Decline and Fall of the Entire World as Seen Through the Eyes of Cole Porter” is more about the times Porter lived in than the man himself. In fact, the years in question, 1919 to 1945, saw many events that might make anyone think civilization was indeed coming to an end: two world wars, Prohibition and the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression.
But Ben Bagley, who created the show just months after Porter died, was more concerned with celebrating the naughty anarchy of the era than condemning its descent into chaos. The revue includes many songs with some of Porter’s cleverest lyrics, although for the most part, they are not his hits. Perhaps Bagley, knowing Porter stopped writing in the last six years of his life, after his leg was amputated, wanted to preserve Porter’s legacy by creating a complete picture of the composer/lyricist’s work. Or maybe he had the same sly sense of irony that makes Porter’s lyrics so delicious.
This season, The York Theatre Company is presenting “The Decline and Fall of the Entire World as Seen Through the Eyes of Cole Porter” as part of its Musicals in Mufti series, which features staged concert performances of “musical theater gems.” True to form, the revue, directed by Pamela Hunt, relies on nothing but a few music stands, a piano (played by music director Eric Svejcar) and the talent of its cast of four: Danny Gardner, Lauren Molina, Diane Phelan and Lee Roy Reams.
The Finale, a whirlwind tour of Porter’s greatest hits performed by the entire cast is a tour-de-force. Coming at the end, it’s what the audience has been waiting for.
The sophisticated, tongue-in-cheek Lee Roy Reams is a master of ceremonies/narrator we can have no doubt both Bagley and Porter would have appreciated. His impersonations of Sophie Tucker and Mae West are priceless Gardener impresses as a singer but really wows with his superb tap. And Molina and Phelan, whether they’re taking a jaundiced view of romance (“Most Gentlemen Don’t Like Love”) or just having fun (Molina’s “The Tale of the Oyster” or Phelan’s “I Happen to Like New York”), are sexy and smart.
Despite his wealth and talent, Porter did not have a happy life. A horseback accident in 1937 left him in constant pain. His wife, Linda, died slowly from emphysema. And by 1958, despite 34 operations, his injured leg had to be amputated.
The revue contains none of this unpleasant information. Perhaps Begley was trying to tell us that an artist’s life is not nearly as important as his work.
The Decline and Fall of the Entire World as Seen Through the Eyes of Cole Porter runs through Oct. 20, 2019 at The York Theatre Company, 619 Lexington Ave (off 54 Street) www.yorktheatre.org.
Photography: Ben Strothman