Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

Porter tunes at Palace are easy to love

Cleveland Press November 6, 1973

The show is zippy, effervescent, campy, novel and it bears the gosh-awful title of "Ben Bagley's Decline and Fall of the Entire World as seen Through the Eyes of Cole Porter." It opened at the 51-year-old Palace Theater last night and it just could keep that theater aglow through the holidays and beyond.

"Decline" is phase two in the Playhouse Square Assn.'s attempt to revitalize downtown Cleveland. Phase one was the opening of the Cabaret Theater in the lobby of Loew's State next door with "Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris," a show that has became the longest running in Cleveland history.

"Decline" is a collection of little known, unsuccessful, mostly forgotten songs by Cole Porter who composed so much that was unforgettable.

The results are more promising than it sounds. Even second-rate Porter is better than the best of most other composers. And even some of his third-rate music (there's a little of that, too) makes for pleasant listening.

But pleasant isn't exactly what is being strived for. Saucy, impudent, smart and satirical -- these are more often the aims. Porter was his own lyricist in an age of great Iyric writers. Today it is almost a lost art.

Don't expect a nostalgic tribute to a great composer. Most of these are tunes you never hummed and you never will hum. But they make one heck of an impact while you listen.

The show is principally a delight to Porter buffs and connoisseurs of show music, yet few of either group will be totally familiar with much of this.

But while "Decline" comes dangerously close to being an "in" show it transcends special interests because of brilliant staging, a talented cast and a total attempt to entertain.

Director Joe Garry Jr., who worked the "Brel" miracle next door, has done it again with "Decline." He has taken disjointed material and made it flow. Every musical number is a dramatic bit. When seven performers all the way through always make just the right motion, move and look it is more than just their own talent -- considerable as it is -- for coincidence. It is superior planning by a superior talent.

But Garry is fortunate in having performers who can come through and have a good deal of native ability. The seven member cast consists of Susan Burkhalter, Bill Bourquin, C.C. (Cathy) Carter,June Gibibons, Ron Newell, Patti Rowe and Jack Walsh.

They act as well as sing the music. They seem to discover the fun in each lyric and then do their best to share it with you.

Miss Gibbons is the perfect mimic as she does a Sophie Tucker number or delivers one in the Beatrice Lillie style. Ron Newell has the walk and strut of a dancer and at times the peculiar motions of a silent screen comic.

The songs cover a period from 1929 to the mid '40's between the Depression and World War II the world certainly declined but Porter's music is hardly a history of

the period. The Porter world was the jet set prior to jets, a frivolous bunch who continued to pursue pleasure when and where they could find it. Their primary interest hadn't advanced much since Adam and Eve.

In entertainment it wasn't an anything goes world as it is now but Porter's Iyrics fit right in with the present. But the words work with greater subtlety.

A running narration and the imaginative use of projected slides provide a connecting thread as well as a running commentary on the songs.

Not all the songs are totally unfamiliar. A couple are pop standards.

"Decline" is a perfect choice as a running companion to''Brel', Where "Brel" is about life and love and passion, "Decline" is brittle, sophisticated, dealing with surface values rather than deep emotions.

The musical direction has been expertly handled by pianist Dick Mone and Paul Rodgers has designed a set that goes with that luxurious lobby, the music and the whole world of Porter.