Play: “High Society”
Group: Kirkwood Theatre Guild
Venue: Robert Reim Theatre, Kirkwood Community Center, 111 South Geyer Road
Dates: May 6, 7, 8
Tickets: $19; contact 314-821-9956 or www.ktg-onstage.org
Story: Tracy Lord and her family are preparing the posh Lord estate on Long Island for the social affair of the 1938 summer, Tracy’s marriage to successful business magnate George Kittredge. Trouble may be brewing, however, as the free-spirited Tracy’s ex-husband and neighbor, Dexter Haven, arrives with news that a muckraking newspaper has sent two of its enterprising journalists to investigate the sordid affair of Tracy’s father with an exotic dancer. Dexter, who by happenstance has met the journalists, convinces them to drop that story in exchange for covering Tracy’s ritzy rituals.
The journalists, reporter Mike and photographer Liz, arrive at the Lord manse, only to find Tracy acting bizarrely, introducing her wastrel Uncle Willie as her father and her more dignified dad as her uncle. Tracy’s precocious sister Dinah is against her sister’s marriage to the uptight George and conspires to do what she can to disrupt the proceedings, while Tracy’s cheerful mother Margaret welcomes her prodigal husband Seth back home. When Mike takes a shining to Tracy, to the disappointment of Liz, it further complicates the matter of who exactly will be marrying whom on this “high society” occasion.
Highlights: Based on the classic comedy, “The Philadelphia Story,” by Philip Barry and its subsequent movie version and later the 1954 musical movie adaptation, “High Society,” this 1998 musical features a book by Arthur Kopit, with lyrics and music by Cole Porter and additional, updated lyrics by Susan Birkenhead. The result is a musical hodgepodge that showcases such timeless Porter classics as “I Love Paris,” “Let’s Misbehave” and “Just One of Those Things,” among many other finger-snapping, easy listening tunes, but lacks any true identify of its own.
Other Info: Unfortunately, there is little that goes right in this tepid Kirkwood Theatre Guild production. A 35-minute delay due to a tornado warning during Act I on opening night only extended the drudgery of this feeble presentation, although there are a handful of performances that rise above the mediocrity. While director Jim Arnet’s time was justifiably preoccupied with the arrival of his first child during show rehearsals, the result on stage is that too many of the 18 or so performers simply seem unfocused and uninspired throughout.
There are some nice turns, however. Amalia LaViolette as Liz capably displays her fine voice on the ballad “He’s a Right Guy” and the amusing number with Uncle Willie, “I’m Getting Ready for You,” which also shows her deft comic abilities. That tune showcases another fine effort by Kent Coffel as the gin-swigging, skirt-chasing Willie. Tori Giessing is delightful as pesky little sister Dinah, while Kay Love brings vitality and class to the role of Margaret, which unfortunately is too small to fully utilize her excellent vocal talents.
Dan Boyer simply is miscast as Dexter, appearing ludicrously older than Uncle Willie or Seth and suffering badly in his stilted portrayal from any comparison to Cary Grant in the film role. Neither does Kim McCreight bear any resemblance, including comic, to Katharine Hepburn or to the feisty, high-spirit Tracy, though she does her best on such memorable tunes as “I Love Paris” and “True Love.” James Kuhlman has his challenges with the role of George while Tom Day does little with the role of Seth. As Mike, Robert Doyle gets high marks for effort but doesn’t convey the writer’s infatuation with society lass Tracy. No James Stewart he, or even Frank Sinatra from the movie musical version, nor does he provide his own singular stamp on the role.
Cherol Thibaut contributes some handsome costumes that elevate the look of the show, which features an effective set designed by Arnet to satisfactorily convey the high-falutin’ Lord estate. Andy Waggoner is musical director, Jenn Koehne provides choreography, JT Taylor contributes the lighting and Paul Thomas provides sound design, while Brandon Atkins serves as assistant director.
The cast and crew surely had fun putting this show together, but there simply is little to enjoy in the finished product.
Rating: A 2 on a scale of 1-to-5.