High Society was one of the last big Hollywood musicals, and it lets you see why the genre became passé. Yes, the songs in the show are indeed Cole Porter songs, the best of which are recycled from earlier shows. The biggest hit from the movie High Society was the banal "True Love," which even in 1956 was fit only for Lawrence Welk's audience, and it hasn't aged well. By 1956, Porter was, sadly, past it, as High Society demonstrates all too clearly.
Happily, Arthur Kopit, who adapted High Society for the stage, has made it a lot classier than the movie. And Stages, which opened High Society last week, has mounted a polished, cheerful, rich production that has Judi Mann and Zoe Vonder Haar singing in the chorus, for God's sake, and the rest of the chorus is pretty hot, too, singing and dancing to beat the band and alone worth the price of admission.
You've probably seen the classic movie of The Philadelphia Story, wherein rich, self-righteous, judgmental but really sensitive Tracy Lord is marrying a stick, having divorced witty, intelligent C.K. Dexter Haven because he didn't do anything constructive. With the help of a pair of journalists, a perceptive mother and little sister, and a drunken uncle, Tracy sees her folly and does the intelligent and dramatically satisfying thing. Corinne Melançon, in her third season at Stages, is the production's Tracy, and she certainly has suavity but some coldness, too. She also has diction problems, despite the overmiking of all personnel and the orchestra. Larry Alexander, making his Stages debut, is a faultless Dexter. Not only are Alexander's voice and diction first-rate, he plays the super-nice guy so well he's entirely credible. Kari Ely and David Schmittou, who play the two journalists, both have wonderful voices and are excellent actors. Ely is particularly appealing as the hard-boiled, softhearted Liz, especially when she's warding off the boozed-up Uncle Willie, a part with which Bob Del Pazzo and the audience both have lots of fun. Alexis L. Kinney is charming and credible as the little sister.
Michael Hamilton's direction keeps things moving along, and his casting of a rather cheesy show turns it into a delightful evening. Dana Lewis' choreography is consistently on the mark, as are Matthew McCarthy's lighting and Gene Emerson Friedman's well-imagined set. Costumes are by Dorothy Marshall Englis, so the women's are usually gorgeous and the men's are so-so. Luckily, all the men of the cast wear clothes well, so what the hey.
High Society continues through Aug. 20 at the Robert G. Reim Theatre in the Kirkwood Civic Center, 111 S. Geyer Rd.