The story I always heard from my cousins in New Orleans about Harry Connick, Jr. was that, as a child prodigy he would frighten his mother, a judge, by sneaking out at night to perform in jazz clubs on Bourbon Street, with his father collecting his son in the early hours of the morning. I hope that legend is true, but I highly recommend that everyone get to Harry Connick, Jr. - A Celebration of Cole Porter, the new show at the Nederlander Theatre, and just sit back and enjoy yourself.
The band – with strings and all! – opens the show with the full sound of one of Porter’s complex overtures arranged and orchestrated by Connick himself. A multi-media presentation takes us beyond band and song. In a surreal journey on film, Connick enters the body and mind of Cole Porter through Porter’s ear and finds treasures of genius inside. Eventually, Connick jumps off the screen and onto the stage. Fed by his audience, as there is no fourth wall here, his voice soon warms with intimacy.
Connick is a perfect Southern gentleman, pairing himself with the spirit of Porter. He oozes sensuality on the stage, as he tells us about Porter’s life, emphasizing that Porter would write about “stuff” and not be obvious about it. You know, Stuff? “This is a family show,” he says, grinning. Pulling us closer and into the musical playground, Connick arranges a piece from the 800-melodies American songbook right before our eyes with the glee of a kid at Godchaux’s. The visuals on screen put us all in the magical world of birthing music from pure love.
Connick highlights one of his trumpet players, Mark Braud, telling us he is one of the best in the world, and we soon hear that this is no lie. Through theatre magic, Braud takes all of us down to The Hall in New Orleans for one of Connick’s own songs, "Take Her to Mardi Gras", and then a sexy arrangement of Porter’s "I Love Paris". But that is not the sexiest song tonight in this reviewer’s opinion. When Connick sings “I’d love to gain complete control of you…” in "All of Me", my date and I are swooning with the crooning. Yes, please!
And speaking of breathless, Connick also highlights his upright bass player, Neal Caine, an incredible talent in city-boy black leather and his hands pluck those strings with the joy of a new lover. I was smitten. Also, drummer, Arthur Latin, is surely the happiest musician in the world as he grins with delight all through the show.
And there’s tap dancing – New Orleans style, Baby. Aaron Burr and Connick give us some fireworks on top of the biggest piano I have ever seen and then Burr blows us all away with moves only gods can make possible. I shed tears of appreciation to be witness to this nearly lost art executed with such skill. Now, that’s entertainment!
(Photo by Matthew Murphy)
"Harry Connick Jr. has got Cole Porter under his skin. And he wants the world to know it. Not only did he recently release an album of Porter songs called “True Love,” but he’s also written and directed a show dedicated to the iconic composer. Titled Harry Connick, Jr.: A Celebration of Cole Porter, the show, running at the Nederlander Theater, delivers on the promise Connick wrote in the program notes, “fasten your seat belts; it’s going to be a wild ride.” Alluding to Bette Davis’s famous line from "All About Eve" is appropriate, given the show is a combination of cocktail hour chitchat, swoon-worthy music, over the top theatrical displays, and delicious camp."
Jose Solis for New York Times