Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Panama Hattie

Panama Hattie, the third show in the York Theatre Company's Cole Porter-a-thon, is a mixed bag that is ultimately great fun.

Simon Jones, Kylie Kuioka, Stephen Bogardus,
Klea Blackhurst, Anita Welch
Photo: Russ Rowland

The positives:

  • Oh, those unmiked voices! I could listen to them forever. Panama Hattie starts with the chorus singing, and those combined, natural, beautiful voices are amazing.
  • Klea Blackhurst is charming and funny in the role that Ethel Merman originated. As soon as she comes on stage, the audience is on her side; she radiates likability. And her voice is wonderful.
  • Kylie Kuioka, who plays the young daughter of the male lead, is having a great time up there. She loves that we love her--eats it right up, in fact. She can deliver a line, her acting is fine, and she's so damn cute. And she knows she's so damn cute, which somehow makes her cuter. And then she sings, and her voice is the icing on the cute cake--lovely!
  • The rest of the cast--Stephen Bogardus, Simon Jones, David Green, Jay Aubrey Jones, Lael Van Keuren, Garen McRoberts, Casey Shuler, Gordon Stanley, Joe Veale, Zuri Washington, and Anita Welch--acquit themselves nicely to wonderfully.
  • There are some cute jokes and a few good songs. 
Gordon Stanley, Casey Shuler, Joe Veale, Zuri
Washington, Jay Aubrey Jones, Lael Van
Keuren, Garen McRoberts, David Green
Photo: Russ Rowland

The negatives:
  • Even in a time period where musical books were silly and thin, Panama Hattie's stands out for its total lack of sense, logic, character building, etc.(which is why I haven't bothered to explain it here).
  • Many of the songs are far from Cole Porter's best (although still worth hearing).
The take-aways:
  • Panama Hattie is a great example of the importance of what the York does in its Mufti series.* First of all, it allows us to see works that wouldn't be done otherwise. 
  • It also reminds us that even the "Golden Age" had its own share of mediocre theatre and that only the best shows have made their way down to us. 
  • Whatever its weaknesses, Panama Hattie is make worth seeing by the top-notch work of the cast, musicians, and director Michael Montel.
  • And, oh, those unmiked voices!
Wendy Caster
(5th row, press ticket)

*Muftis are staged readings, but so much more than that. While the actors are more or less on book, it never gets in the way of the performances. The orchestra is one piano or a piano and one other instrument. Panama Hattie was beautifully accompanied by piano and bass fiddle. Muftis may also have costumes and choreography. Panama Hattie had both. 

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