You Never Know
nytheatre.com review by Jo Ann Rosen
April 16, 2009
Certain things don't change, and love is one of them. In Cole Porter's You Never Know, everyone in Paris is looking for it: the Baron, his valet, single and married socialites and the maids that serve them. The year of the musical's run on Broadway, 1938, Mayor La Guardia was sworn in, GE introduced fluorescent lighting, Xerox produced its first image, Louis beat Schmelling in the first round, and "A Tisket-A Tasket" was a hit song—overall, a simpler time.
But maybe not. Also in 1938, unemployment ran 19%, Germany's reign of persecution began, oil was discovered in Saudi Arabia, and FDR's WPA program supported the arts, allowing a three-month run of this delightful piece of escapism. One difference between then and now, is the addition of nine Porter songs that were cut from the original Broadway production—the best reason of all to see this revival, a staged musical in concert form produced by Musicals Tonight!.
The plot is transparent. It takes place in Paris, 1929, in the apartment of Baron Ferdinand Rommer. The Baron, a ladies' man, juggles indiscriminate affairs with the help of his devoted valet, Gaston. In a bit of fun, Gaston attempts to emulate the Baron, but is discovered when the Baron walks in during his masquerade with Maria. Showing a rare bit of empathy for his servant, the Baron slips into the role of valet. The plot thickens when Maria falls for the Baron, thinking he is a valet, a station she is far more comfortable with since she is really the maid of Mme. Baltin, the Baron's next conquest. Also appearing are Ida, the Baron's former lover; Herr Baltin, Mme. Baltin's husband; and a waiter.
But the audience is not there for the plot, not really. They're there for Cole Porter's lyrics and melodies. And, these, along with a talented cast, deliver. Though none of the tunes in this production reach the height of many of Porter's best (such as "Anything Goes" or "My Heart Belongs to Daddy"), the music is melodic and, for the most part, supports the masterful lyrics that make the show worthwhile. I particularly liked the fanciful "What Shall I Do?" and "From Alpha to Omega," a nimble duet, displaying the clever references so plentiful in Porter songs. It brings to mind "You're the Top," but with less precision. Numbers such as the monotonous "I'm Yours" and the silly "What a Priceless Pleasure" need no explanation as to why they were cut.
Delivering the goods is a wonderful cast. James Zanelli delivers a confident Baron, who croons "By Candlelight," a song which reprises twice and underpins the relationship between master and his servant. The song never appeared in the Broadway run, but supplies a nice thread through the current version. Christy Morton, the spurned Ida, keeps a positive spin with "Just One Step Ahead of Love," a jazzy syncopated composition also newly added to the show. And, Kate Marilley gives Mme. Baltin an air of the stuffy matron with a wink of ironic delivery in a resurrected song called "I'm Going in for Love." Kevin Kraft draws empathy for his Gaston by combining an earnest need to please his master and the undeniable urge to satisfy his desire for love. He gives "At Long Last Love" the sound of a Cole Porter standard. The standout is Jennifer Evans as Maria, who brings life and whimsy to the stage. Her voice is crystal clear and blends beautifully in her many duets with the other characters. Bill Coyne as the waiter and Todd Faulkner as Herr Baltin make cameo appearances with a single number each.
The producer, Musicals Tonight!, does a fine job of reviving old musicals, and it was a delight to hear the unsung songs of this little confection. With its minimal sets, simple yet fetching period costumes borrowed from the TDF collection, and its fine cast, You Never Know provides a wonderful two-hour escape from 24-hour bad news and the many other reminders of our current difficult times.