How inside the Beltway is the puckish new “The Cole Porter Project” at Source Theatre? House Speaker John A. Boehner’s name gets worked into the lyrics of “You’re the Top.” Robert Griffin III gets a shout-out. A singing reference to the Affordable Care Act is one of the funniest moments of the night.
That makes this new In Series production a campus varsity show for the District crowd. Nine singers zip through dozens of Porter tunes that co-writers and co-directors Steven Scott Mazzola and Greg Stevens stitch together with a frothy, disposable plot. The scheme? Introducing legislation for a Cole Porter Day.
This leads to localized punch lines about everything from fundraisers to the now-impossible parking situation around the Source (that’s 14th and T streets NW, kids). Naturally, there is romance: Can a social media guru look up from her smartphone long enough to notice the Library of Congress wonk who pines for her? And maybe there’s something brewing between the Porter activist and the lobbyist he’s trying to persuade, even though he has a fiancee back home in Peru, Ind.
The course thus charted, the show bobsleds through 35 Porter tunes in less than two hours (including a long intermission). “Love for Sale” is the lobbyist’s song, “Well, Did You Evah!” captures gossips at a gala, and so on. Most of it hits a cute comic bull’s-eye.
The In Series skews slightly operatic, and these singers are formally trained, but here is the oddity: Absolutely no effort goes to interpreting the songs melodically. That doesn’t seem to be the singers’ fault. The goal seems to be to romp through the songbook and make hay with Porter’s mischievous lyrics, leaving the basic piano and bass arrangements to run an absurdly tiny gamut of emotions from breezy to brisk.
The reward here, then, is not precision-tuned music, and to call the lickety-split renditions and the occasional lack of synchronization “loose” would be generous. A messy mashup of “Too Darn Hot” and “It’s De-Lovely” brings this home; listening to the jumbled parts brings to mind an old jalopy bouncing down the road, the nuts and bolts barely keeping the contraption together.
Joseph Haughton clowns appealingly and sings sturdily through “C’est Magnifique” as he plays the accordion, and it’s one of the evening’s most totally composed turns. What you’re really in for is a brand of Washingtonian laughs, that, in one of the giddiest instances, makes “Find Me a Primitive Man” into a dance number on Metro’s Red Line.
Music by Cole Porter. Conceived, written and directed by Steven Scott Mazzola and Greg Stevens. Musical directors, Paul Leavitt and Frank Conlon. Choreography, Angelisa Gillyard. Set, Greg Stevens; lights, Klyph Stanford; costumes, Donna Breslin. With Kenneth Derby, Samual Keeler, Jase Parker, Tammy Roberts, Randa Rouweyha, Brian Shaw, Sarah Anne Sillers and Tia Wortham. About two hours. Through March 9 at Source Theatre, 1835 14th St. NW. Tickets $20-$38. Call 202-204-7763 or visit inseries.org.