COLORADO DAILY: CU theater professor directs Eklund Opera’s Cole Porter revue
The show is an homage to composer behind ‘Anything Goes’ and ‘Kiss Me Kate.’
Since 2013, the box offices of the University of Colorado’s College of Music (known as CU Presents) and the Department of Theatre and Dance (along with the Colorado Shakespeare Festival) have been merged, and that has facilitated other felicitous collaborations between the two campus programs.
Theatre and Dance department head Bud Coleman has crossed regularly into the world of the College of Music’s Eklund Opera Program. He has directed the student composer component of the summer new-opera program, CU NOW, for several years, and last fall, Coleman took the stage at Macky Auditorium in Eklund’s production of “Die Fledermaus,” with an uproarious take on the non-singing role of Frosch.
Next week, Coleman will direct the last production of the 2016-17 CU opera season, the musical revue “Red Hot and Cole” — which celebrates the life and work of American musical theater composer Cole Porter — while the program’s regular director, Leigh Holman, is on sabbatical.
Ironically, Coleman is also on sabbatical, which ended up allowing him to direct the revue due to a coincidence of the calendar.
“As department head, it’s almost impossible for me to direct a show during the academic year,” Coleman said. But his sabbatical gig directing a production of “Fiddler on the Roof” in Thailand ended just in time. The Porter revue had already been planned as the season’s annual April “chamber opera,” and Coleman was always Holman’s first choice to direct it. “The dates worked out perfectly,” Coleman said.
There are four performances, on Thursday-Saturday nights and Sunday afternoon, April 27-30, at the Music Theater in the Imig Music Building. As of press time, the Sunday and Friday performances are sold out, and tickets are limited for Saturday.
The nature of the April production varies widely, and has included baroque operas by Handel or Monteverdi, early Rossini, chamber operas by 20th century composers like Copland and Britten, and contemporary masterpieces, such as Mark Adamo’s “Little Women.” The only constant is the smaller stage and accompanying ensemble. As recently as 2014, the program presented a composer-based musical revue in “Side by Side by Sondheim.”
“The difference between opera-trained singers and theater-trained singers is getting smaller,” Coleman explained, “and opera itself is getting different. These days, it’s important for opera singers to be proficient in the musical theater repertoire.”
Jeremy Reger, an instructor in the voice department and vocal coach for the opera program, will serve as music director for the revue. Like Coleman, he emphasized the need for singers to understand this style. He said that Porter — famous for such shows as “Anything Goes” and “Kiss Me Kate” — is one of the more musically sophisticated and popular musical theater composers.
Coleman agreed, asserting that Porter abandoned the typical verse forms in favor of more complex structures in his songs. He said that while European composers were trying to write in American styles, Porter was going the other way, allowing world influences into his scores.
The revue itself has a narrative structure revolving around Porter’s life, and the songs are presented more or less in chronological order. Even if audience members know nothing about Cole Porter himself, they are bound to recognize many of his melodies. The story begins with Porter’s 22nd birthday party, in the wake of his first Broadway show, which was a flop.
A central point of Act II is Porter’s horseback riding accident, in 1937, which severely injured both his legs, causing him intense pain for the rest of his life. The story picks up on his return from the hospital. Coleman pointed out that the joyous “Kiss Me Kate,” composed in 1948, belies how much pain its author was in during its composition.
The vocal ensemble consists of 14 singers, most of whom take multiple roles, all important people in Porter’s life. Porter himself and his famous socialite wife Linda are taken by the same singers throughout. Figures such as Edward Hopper and Dorothy Parker are portrayed.
“Red Hot and Cole” was assembled in 1977 and premiered at the Barksdale Theatre in Virginia. The title is a reference to Porter’s musical “Red Hot and Blue.” The narrative presents an opportunity to experience more Porter songs than would be heard in one of his actual shows.
Porter was a rare stage composer who wrote both the music and lyrics to his songs. Coleman said that a reference in the show to Rodgers and Hammerstein results in a quip from Porter about how amazing it is that “it took two people to write that score.” “He often didn’t find English adequate, and made up wonderful words like ‘de-lovely’,” Coleman said. “I find his invention with language as astounding as his musical complexity.”
Reger has arranged and expanded the accompaniment from the original revue material, which calls for piano, bass and drums. He removed the drums, which he says have a tendency to overwhelm the singers in a space as confined as the Music Theater. His band consists of piano, bass, violin, a woodwind player doubling on flute and clarinet, guitar and accordion. Reger will play and conduct from the piano. The band will be placed on stage rather than in the pit, and Reger said that the musicians are creatively incorporated into the set.