Act II Playhouse had planned to do a musical review of the works of composer/songwriter Cole Porter in the summer of 2020, but had to shelve the project due to covid. Rescheduled for a year later, it too, was cancelled. This time, they created the review, “Cole for your Stocking” as their Christmas show, even though Porter was not known for his Christmas songs. What they have put together is a simple, yet brilliant show featuring three singers and a pianist singing so many of Porter’s most famous songs.
These three singers, Renee McFillin, Michael Indeglio, and Zachary Chiero are not just wonderful singers, they are also outstanding performers who enact scenarios around the songs Porter created for shows like “Kiss Me Kate” and “Anything Goes.” It’s just the piano player/musical director Dan Matarazzo and the three on a very simple set. It feels as though we are in the room with them as they sing “I Get a Kick Out of You, You’re the Top, Let’s Fall in Love, Just One of Those Things, All Through the Night,and Brush Up Your Shakespeare.” I didn’t realize how many of the songs I actually recalled and was singing along silently.
Unlike the Gershwins or Rodgers and Hammerstein, who partnered, Porter was a an amazingly talented writer who composed the music AND wrote the lyrics. He started writing songs when he was 11 and continued writing until his health brought him down in the late 1950’s.
I can’t describe the exhilarating feeling I had as I listened to the complex, yet very funny rhymes of the lyrics. The man was a creative genius. And he must have had so much fun writing such wild and crazy songs. You will feel the fun as you sit and listen.
To make it a Christmas tribute to Porter, there is one section where they take his songs, alter the lyrics in his unique style, and create a new Christmas version. Among those were “It’s Too Darn Cold” and “Sleigh for Sale.” It is a riot!
The singers, Chiero and Indeglio were so smooth as they presented Porter’s songs. The space at Act II Playhouse is so intimate, they sang to us without amplification. I can’t say enough about the strong but soft accompaniment of Matarazzo on the piano. So often, the musical accompaniment is so loud, it’s difficult to make out the lyrics. But Matarazzo’s gentle style would make it easy for even a younger person who was less familiar with Cole Porter to appreciate the man.
Finally there is McFillin. What a gem! She sang with the power of Ethel Merman and the sweetness of Judy Garland. Her expressive face reflected the various moods of the songs- from seduction to silliness. A beautiful woman, she resembled Marilyn Monroe and other sexy women of the 50’s. I was mesmerized by her look but even more dazzled by her powerful and beautiful voice.
I am so glad that Act II Playhouse chose not to stream this show during the pandemic, but waited to give the live production it did. It is a winner!
“Cole For Your Stocking” at Act II Playhouse, 56, E. Butler Ave., Ambler, PA 19002, 215-654-0200, www.act2.org. Thru January 1, 2023.