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Cole, Cole Heart

John Barrowman scores with his excellent new CD of Cole Porter songs on the First Night label. logo
Born in Scotland and raised in America, the highly talented and exceptionally good looking John Barrowman has become a star of the London musical stage. At a tender age, Barrowman played opposite Elaine Paige in the 1989 London production of Cole Porter's Anything Goes, and he's currently reprising his role of Billy Crocker in yet another West End revival of that classic. His London credits also include leads in Miss Saigon, Sunset Boulevard, and The Phantom of the Opera.

On this side of the pond, Barrowman was perfect as Bobby in Stephen Sondheim's Company as presented in 2002 during the Sondheim Celebration at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. He's one of the few reasons to see the recent Cole Porter "biopic" De-Lovely, singing "Night and Day" as a duet (sort of) with Kevin Kline. But Barrowman has only appeared twice on Broadway: He very briefly filled in as Joe Gillis in Sunset Boulevard, and he was in the Sondheim revue Putting It Together with Carol Burnett, George Hearn, Ruthie Henshall, and Bronson Pinchot.

That John Barrowman isn't a huge name in New York has much to do with the current state of musical theater and his own less-than-wise choices regarding what shows to do and whom to work with, but nothing to do with his talent and star quality. Although his voice isn't terribly distinctive, it's very beautiful: clear, lovely, and with a wonderfully youthful sound to it. As for his interpretive abilities, Barrowman is one of those singers who can persuasively deliver a classic song without distorting it. Rather than indulging in aggressively odd phrasing and overacting as some other performers do when rendering standards, he sings straightforwardly, with a great deal of heart and intelligence. For evidence, check out John Barrowman Swings Cole Porter, his new CD on the First Night label (scheduled for release on October 5).

The only negative thing to be said about the album is that its title is somewhat misleading. Yes, the disc does feature a number of Porter standards in swing arrangements -- e.g., "Just One of Those Things," "It's All Right With Me." But a large percentage of it consists of such perennials as "In the Still of the Night," "Every Time We Say Goodbye," and "Do I Love You?" performed as slow ballads. This is good news, because Barrowman sounds just as great when crooning romantically as when he's bopping through an up-tempo number. (The album's first-rate arrangements and orchestrations are by Larry Blank.)

Among the CD's other highlights are three of the most unusual songs in the Porter canon: "I Happen to Like New York," "Miss Otis Regrets," and "Don't Fence Me In." The sexiest cut here is definitely "Ça, c'est l'amour." Incidentally, sharp-eared tune detectives will have fun listening to "After You, Who?" and "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To." The first few notes of the former's chorus sound an awful lot like "It's a Nice Face," which Cy Coleman wrote for the movie version of Sweet Charity, while the main melody of the latter calls to mind the Van Morrison song "Moondance." As a bonus track, the disc includes Barrowman's rendition of "Easy to Love" from the 2003 London cast recording of Anything Goes. It's a safe bet that John Barrowman Swings Cole Porter will delight J.B.'s loyal fans and gain him lots of new ones.

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