Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter, Book by Abe Burrows
Theatre Under the Stars
Stanley Park
July 13-August 20
604-257-0366 or online

Malkin Bowl’s resident bald eagles were at it in full force Sunday night, chirping and flapping while bedding down in their nest. Meanwhile, the singers, dancers, musicians and mimes of Theatre Under the Stars were taking the stage for Cole Porter’s 1953 musical, Can Can. This night, anyway, it was no contest. The eagles had it.

From the start, the book by Broadway veteran Abe Burrows turns an interesting situation into a generic love story. A woman named Pistache (Cailin Stadnyk), the only female dance hall proprietor in Paris’ Montmartre district in the 1890s, is thriving because of the lascivious, illegal dancing of her can can girls. Newly appointed judge Aristide (Mark Pawson) aims to put an end to the immorality.

But the argument about censorship versus artistic freedom comes to nothing when Aristide falls in love with Pistache (quelle surprise!). Aristide must be one of the dullest romantic leads ever written, and neither Pawson’s acting nor singing helps bring the character to life. The proto-feminist angle—plucky female entrepreneur fighting unfair, uptight male system—also disappears amid some embarrassing sexist wife jokes.

Meanwhile, a subplot involving a studio full of bohemian Parisian artists and a snooty art critic feels like it might have been written after the American invasion of Iraq. These stage Frenchies are the cheese-eating surrender monkeys of the 1890s, all cowardly, chattering, hypocritical, pretentious idiots. They also produce some of the coarsest acting I have seen at TUTS. Even the best performance in this group, Peter Stainton’s Boris the Franco-Bulgarian sculptor, is relentlessly loud and blustery.

Musically, Can Can is one of Porter’s lesser works. The show’s liveliest tunes are sung by the can can girls, whose strong voices (especially Laura Solilo’s) are a highlight. But its best-known songs have dated badly. “C’est Magnifique,” “It’s All Right with Me” and “I Love Paris” have that sluggish early ‘50s quality that reminds us why rock ‘n’ roll had to be invented.

Cailin Stadnyk has a lovely voice and beautiful stage presence but she can’t carry this show. Her Pistache and Pawson’s Aristide have zero chemistry, and she’s burdened with a terrible pseudo-French accent that mysteriously disappears when she sings. Director Susan Lehmann must take the blame for allowing half the cast to speak fractured Frenglish and the other half to carry on in their many variations of flat Canadian, making for some jarring conversations.

Fin de siècle Paris does provide the opportunity for costume designer Rachel Berchtold to turn the ladies and gentlemen of Montmartre and those lusty dancers into luscious eye candy. And these dancers can dance, thank goodness. But Jason Franco’s can-can choreography doesn’t really lift off until the finale, danced to a song filled with racist lyrics, the legacy of a period musical that might better have been left in the can.

last updated: Tuesday, July 19, 2005 5:35 PM
website design by Linda Fenton Malloy