At Winthrop House through April 29

Quite apart from who produces it, Can-Can is not the Great American Musical. In fact, it boggles the senses to discover how bad it is in places, and how far its few good tunes are expected to stretch. Yet the Winthrop House Music Society has grappled with this diffuse, uneven creation, and won. Chiefly by the injection of large amounts of good old college-kid exuberance, the Winthrop players have turned out a vastly entertaining show.

It obviously wasn't easy. Cole Porter's score, except for "C'est Magnifique," "It's All Right With Me," and "I Love Paris," is not one to make hearts beat wildly. The book, by Abe Burrows, is chaotic, and the entire show proceeds at a lurch. If there is any greatness to be found in Can-Can it is in the spirit of the thing. At Winthrop, the atmosphere may not be that of Paris in 1893, but it is a wonderful spirit nonetheless.

If you don't know the story of Can-Can by now, I'm certainly not going to tell you. And it really couldn't matter less. But the show does have some fine moments, most of which are exploited by the Winthrop cast. Fortunately, the first of them comes in the opening scene, when Pistache's spirited laundresses blast out "Maidens Typical of France." Maybe it isn't the greatest song ever written, but the enthuiasm of the moment is contagious.

That enthusiasm has to hold you through two rather unexciting scenes, but then comes "C'est Magnifique," and then a well-choreographed "Quadrille." And so it goes, up and down, all evening. Happily, the downs are not serious, and the ups are frequently glorious. A notable up is a very funny duel scene featuring Hillaire Jussac (Charles Breyer) and Boris Adzinidzinadze (Harry Knopf).

Breyer, by the way, is one of the real nuts of our generaton. All he has to do to get a laugh is walk onstage, which he does often and well. Not content to rest on his laurels, he says things when he gets there, and they are also quite funny. And there are others--many others--in the cast who are similarly talented.


All the laundresses are fairly attractive, but it is not difficult to spot Claudine (Betsy Ervin) almost immediately. She is just full of vivacity and sauciness, and she is fun to look at. Her numbers with Breyer and Knopf are delightful, although again the music is no great shakes. Knopf is fine as the mad Bulgarian sculptor; he resists the temptation to play the whole part at 10,000 decibels, so it is just that much funnier when he does let go.

Susan Dowling, in both the Garden of Eden ballet and the apache number, gives the Winthrop audience a display of some of the finest dancing ever seen on a House stage. Terrence Currier is convincing as Judge Aristide Forestier, and he possesses a fine tenor voice.

For Pistache, director W. W. Hillier chose someone who can act but not sing, which took a certain amount of guts. Anne Chittenden is a perfect Pistache for the most part, but there are times, there are times. Miss Chittenden succeeds with "C'est Magnifique," but she has a little trouble with "Allez-Vous-En." And if all the acting ability in the world could carry off "I Love Paris," Miss Chittenden might have done it; some songs, though, simply have to be sung.

Hillier has done a fine job of directing; just when a scene seems to grow static, he makes it explode in five different directions. He has cleverly filled the gaps between scenes, and, best of all, he has staged a thoroughly professional show. Muffs, backstage clonkings, and all the other annoyances one habitually associates with House drama are at an absolute minimum.

Christina Wilhelm's choreography is uniformly excellent, and well executed throughout. Mark E. Talisman's louvred set is ingenious, but the combinations of panels might have been more distinguishable from one another. During the overture, the audience may wonder what it has got itself into, but James Hughes' orchestra warms up after that. The costumes, designed by Arnita Mongiovi, are dazzling.

The hepped-up Winthrop stands last night cheered vociferously at every first down, and sometimes began hooting and stamping before the team was on the field. Well, they can relax; this show will earn plenty of applause on its own.

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