Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Everyone can Can-Can / You can Can-Can Too

Thank God for the library. And not just because our country flourishes from the exchange and availability of ideas afforded by a library.

The library system in my city has an impressive collection of film musicals available, titles that circulate among the varying branches. Being a person who doesn’t rent a whole lot, I’ve appreciated the variety of films the library has allowed me to see without paying a penny (except for those overdue fines, which I consider a civic duty in my support of the library). Every library is different, but check out your library to see if it has a variety of classic film musicals as well.

My latest find was the film version of Cole Porter’s Can-Can, a show I don’t know much about. I’d certainly heard of it, but it’s not a show that is performed very often. In watching the movie, it didn’t take long to realize, though, that this was another one of those leaden Hollywood hack jobs, much like Guys and Dolls and Hello, Dolly!, though I was thoroughly engaged in Simone’s plight by the beginning of the second act.

What is of most interest, however, are the bonus features. We are actually given featurettes on Cole Porter and Abe Burrows (librettist whose works include Guys and Dolls, Can-Can, and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying). If you’ve seen the Michael Kantor documentary Broadway: The American Musical, there probably won’t be much new on Porter, but the Abe Burrows featurette, including interviews with his two children, is quite interesting. It doesn’t do as well of a job of covering Burrows’ life and career as Keith Garebian’s The Making of Guys and Dolls (though it does discuss his tragic death to Alzheimer’s), but it’s great to see his children analyzing his work and to see his contributions presented in the documentary form (or, more correctly, the bonus feature form).

Most exciting, though, is that the featurette on the making of the film actually presents silent footage from the original production of Can-Can, including quick snippets of the magical Gwen Verdon in action (and experts discussing the ravishing success she was in the show, which was so threatening to star Lilo that she managed to get Verdon’s role cut down). Seeing that footage is priceless.

To learn more about the original production, I picked up Ethan Mordden’s invaluable Coming Up Roses, which analyzes the show in length as if he had been there to see Verdon on opening night. According to him, with my editorializing added on, it seems as if Can-Can was one of those Broadway shows with much to enjoy, gaping flaws and all, which ran for over two years.

Yes, even in the Golden Age, not everything was Golden, but a show didn’t have to be perfect or groundbreaking to run. It just needed to provide an ample amount of fun and pleasure.

Yes, things have indeed changed since the Golden Age.

the Broadway Mouth
February 12, 2008

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