March 31, 1965 / New York Times
"Theater: Porter's World Revisited" / by John S. Wilson
It is quite probable that a highly acclaimed songwriting career could be based entirely on the Cole Porter songs that scarcely anyone but Ben Bagley knows. In any event, Mr. Bagley, an incorrigible collector of forgotten songs from the theater, has built the most tuneful and witty musical in town around what might be considered the unknown Porter.
He calls it "The Decline and Fall of the Entire World as Seen Through the Eyes of Cole Porter Revisited," a title that all but buries the cast of five performing it on the small stage of the Square East. The "world" under scrutiny is the one that occupied the years between 1929 and 1945, when there can be little doubt that considerable declining and falling went on.
As Mr. Porter saw these years in his songs, however, it was a period in which an examination of the engagements between the sexes continued to be pertinent.
His views of the times were expressed in "How's Your Romance?," "I Loved Him But That Way," "I Loved Him But He Didn't Love Me" and "But in the Morning, No," to mention a few of the full- blooded Porter tunes that might have disappeared with the rest of that world had Mr. Bagley not brought them back to light.
It is one of the fascinations of this revue that, of its 33 songs, there is not one that rates as a dud; and, barring one chorus of "Let's Do It," one would have to be something of a show-tune buff to be familiar with any of them. They come pouring out of Mr. Bagley's cornucopia, presented with airy abandon by five light-hearted singing and dancing satirists who obviously are in full accord with Mr. Porter's views.
Kaye Ballard, batting her eyes, baring her gleaming teeth and dodging encircling dancers, is by turns slinky or raucous. She tells the sad story of an indigestible social-climbing oyster in "Tale of the Oyster," she is Mabel Mercer elegantly declaiming "Down in the Depths on the 90th Floor," Sophie Tucker intoning "Tomorrow" and Beatrice Lillie, stretched out across four stools, and wrapped in a red boa, singing "When I Was a Little Cuckoo."
Carmen Alvarez, an exotic beauty, brings to light a lovely Porter ballad, "What Shall I Do?," takes off her shoes to sing "Find Me a Primitive Man" and, as one of three burlesque queens in "Come On In," mixes bumps with bubble gum. Elmarie Wendel, a versatile pixie;
Harold Lang, still handy with both feet and voice,
and William Hickey, a man who manages to look studious and baffled at the same time, keep the songs moving.
The attitude of the production is casual and unpretentious. It laughs at itself; it laughs at some of the foibles that Cole Porter overlooked by reminding us that the big news event at the height of the Depression was the discovery that Colleen Moore had one blue eye and one brown eye. It flashes through kaleidoscopic projections of subjects both pertinent and impertinent.
And it relishes Cole Porter. It feasts on his lively and lilting tunes, tunes that are so marked by the Porter dash and swagger that they are immediately recognizable even though one may never have heard them before. And it glories in his lyrics, that steady flow of wit-to-wit combat at which he was an absolute master.