Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
The parties attended by the Gershwins, Cole Porter and their contemporaries are almost as legendary as the music such composers produced. Sunday night, the Smithsonian Institution presented some of that music in a format not unlike a party.
Singers gathered around a piano and performed numbers from "Lady, Be Good!," the 1924 Gershwin-Gershwin hit, and "Anything Goes," the 1934 Porter hit. Occasionally they would cut loose for a little bit of dancing. And in a corner of the stage, Smithsonian jazz and popular culture director Marin Williams related the plots of the musicals in the same conversational manner that reconteurs use at a parties.
It was pleasant enough, for a party, though there was a genteel tone that one imagines was missing from some of the bashes attended by the Gershwins and Porter. Even on an occasion like this, the Smithsonian can't quite forget that it's museum.
This has certain advantages. The performers didn't get soused, for exammple, and their diction remained clear and disciplined throughout the evening. The four featured singers - Kate Kiley, Louise Machen, Eric Weitz and Mark Rendely - and the Ad Hoc Committee barbershop quartet that supported them, were musically secure and generally moved and stood with grace.
No one let go, however. Surely we could have expected a little more oomph out of "Blow, Gabriel. Blow." Unless there were some vocal reserves left unrevealed, these performers would not suffice in full productions of these shows in large halls. And maybe no choregraphy at all would have been better than the few tentative steps on display Sunday night. They only made us wish for more.
It's unfair, of course, to compare these performers to the originals, which included Fred Astaire and Ethel Merman. But because the concert was held in conjunction with the Smithsonian's release of original cast albums, pesky comparisons nevertheless popped up. The lyrics are more muddled on these old recordings than they were Sunday night. But the original performers sound, evon on record, as if they had a lot more fun.