A river of champagne flows through the Walnut Street Theatre's production of High Society, and there's not a sour drop in this bubbly, joy-filled show.
With a score that includes some of Cole Porter's greatest hits, how could there be?
Arthur Kopit based this musical's book on the 1939 play The Philadelphia Story and the 1956 musical film High Society. Kopit's 1998 version stays true to the romantic-comedy plot. Feisty socialite Tracy Lord (Megan Nicole Arnoldy) intends to wed pompous businessman George Kittredge (Jon Reinhold), but her plans are complicated by the pre-wedding arrival of her ex-husband Dexter (Paul A. Schaefer) and an intriguing society journalist (Ben Dibble as Mike Connor).
If you've seen the play, movie, or subsequent musical film, you already know the wild high-jinks that follow: Tracy downs one bottle of champagne after the next, as sober matrimonial anxiety bleeds into ex-husband longing, and the last sip sees a skinny-dip with a veritable stranger. What sounded scandalous in the 1938-era of the play gets tamed with laughs, most of these provided by veteran Dan Schiff's performance as Uncle Willie, a bumbling, groping alcoholic whose first lines ("Who're you marrying now?") set the light comedic tone for the whole evening.
An eight-servant ensemble glides through the too-brief tap and swing sequences of Mary Jane Houdina's choreography, adding levity with their weary renditions of "Let's Misbehave" and "High Society" as the night wears on. Mary Folino decks the cast in dashing tuxedos and gold-adorned dresses, each scene's attire encompassing an understated elegance sometimes lacking in "high" society fashion today.
Musical director Douglass G. Lutz leads a booming eight-piece band and chose a perfect contrast in the vocal styles of the three male suitors. Reinhold's resounding operatic voice only accentuates his pomposity. Dibble's earnest, yet thin by contrast, voice mirrors his surface-thin character.
By voice alone, Tracy's choice sounds clear; Schaefer's rich baritone, whether singing solo or in duets, smolders (no surprise that he plays both the title character and Raoul in Broadway's Phantom of the Opera). It doesn't hurt that his lanky frame emphasizes his height, particularly in the blue-striped evening jacket from Act II.
Arnoldy's deep, clear voice endears her to the audience, despite her character deficiencies and pre-wedding mating strategies. Her ultimately sympathetic portrayal resolves the plot's learning curve like a rough night on the bottle, awakening in a bubbly haze, and lingering, like that rare, worthwhile hangover of an evening well spent, under otherwise inadvisable conditions.
Through Oct. 25 at the Walnut Street Theatre, 825 Walnut St.