Broadway Preludes' one-night June 27 concert production of Cole Porter's The Ambassador Revue will mark the show's American premiere. That's because, after its original Paris staging in 1928, the revue fell into oblivion until it was rediscovered in 2012 in an archive in Milan. Even more recently, the original orchestrations by musical legend Fred Waring were unearthed from the Waring archive at Penn State, meaning that audiences will be treated to Porter's music, exactly as it would have sounded in the Jazz Age.
Three-time Tony nominee Randy Skinner (42nd Street), who was tapped to choreograph the special event, is no stranger to rediscovering the tunes of early 1900s. In 2007, the City Center Encores! regular choreographed that series' production of Irving Berlin's Face the Music, a show that hadn't been seen in New York since the '30s. Skinner spoke to TheaterMania about forgotten songs, double entendres, and Frozen's musical throwbacks.
What should audiences expect from The Ambassador Revue?
It's [from] 1928, and all of these songs [are] undiscovered Cole Porter. It's just amazing when you have something like that…when you discover these songs by these incredible composers that are not in the canon. And the other thing about it is the discovery of the original Fred Waring arrangements and orchestrations. Fred Waring was a big force because he not only was a band leader and had a big choral group and a television show, [but] he had a publishing business, so later in life he published a lot of his arrangements and then every high school in the country did them. These original arrangements and orchestrations just sound so twenties. And of course [band leader] Vince Giordano is the authority on that. Hearing his band, you are really transported to the twenties. Then you combine that with the special kind of arrangements that were done and the instrumentation, and you're really getting the authentic feel for that period.
What makes this music unique?
This is Cole Porter at his earliest. People always say there's a real sophistication to Cole Porter, and I think that has to come from his background and his travels and the crowd he ran around with. With Cole Porter, there was his wordplay. There were always little double entendres going on, and sexuality, because of the life he led, and the people that he was with and his own personal life.
You're both choreographing and performing in The Ambassador Revue. Which are you more nervous about?
Actually it's more [nerve-racking] when you're up there because you don't have a lot of control on these one-night events. You get into the theater that morning and you have the run-through. You're dealing with a lot of elements that are thrown at you like the lighting and the sound and the stage surface, because you don't have time to get on and actually rehearse on the stage…and this will be an interesting fit because we're going to have two grand pianos out there and probably at least fourteen or fifteen [orchestra members], and there's some potted palms to create the sense of like a twenties club. And then you've got monitors and you've got cables. I told the tech guy that's heading it, "Just do the best you can to clear as much space as you can in the center to give us some room to dance." But I really won't see that until Friday.
What excited you about working on this particular project?
The fun of doing these one-night-only events…and the opportunity to put some dancing in it — where else can you have these except in New York? And because of the way the arrangements are made. There are people who are real musical devotees hearing a score for the first time. We kind of lose touch with that. You have to remember, there were first audiences for South Pacific or Oklahoma, King and I, Kiss Me, Kate. I hear old-timers talk about that. We grew up listening to the CDs and hearing the albums, but somebody was a first audience.
It's hard to imagine that.
Even when you hear the Oscar-nominated songs, they're often not in the ilk they were in the past where they went on the pop parade. I suppose the song from Frozen is the closest we've had in a while, where it actually then is picked up and recorded by several people. That's really what music used to be.
I think hearing this 1928 Cole Porter score is going to be exciting for people. And it's very much the twenties. It's going to feel like you're transported back.