Pear Theatre celebrates the genius of Noel Coward | July 4, 2018 | Almanac | Almanac Online |

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Arts & Entertainment - July 4, 2018

Pear Theatre celebrates the genius of Noel Coward

by Karla Kane

"I went to a marvellous party," begins the Noel Coward spoken-word song of the same name. The same could be said by audience members after a performance of "Oh, Coward!", the fizzy musical revue capping off the Pear Theatre's current season.

The Pear doesn't often delve into musical territory, so it's a rare treat to catch some singing and dancing there. "Oh, Coward!" is not a full musical production (in the sense of having a script, plot, etc.) but rather a revue incorporating an array of Coward songs. It also includes a few snippets of skits and quips (and, for some reason, a bit of Cole Porter). It was first staged in New York in 1972, a year before Coward's death, and is mostly made up of material written between 1925 and 1964.

Accompanied by Brad Arington on piano, the cast is made up of Pear artistic director Elizabeth Kruse Craig (who co-directed, along with Pear founder Diane Tasca), Kristin Brownstone, Dan Kapler and Michael Rhone. The foursome sing together and separately, working their way through Coward classics ("The Stately Homes of England," "A Room with a View," "Mad About the Boy") and lesser-known gems.

It feels like I've reviewed numerous Coward productions over the past decade, so forgive me if I'm repeating myself, but I am definitely a fan. If you're not already familiar, Coward was a master of witty, often caustic wordplay, sparkling melodies and a very British sense of humor, frequently making fun of the English upper classes (as well as of boorish Americans and anything or anyone else that made a good target for his zingers). He has songs of moving beauty, too, such as the tear-jerking "London Pride," written to buck up Londoners battered by the Blitz (Brownstone does a sweet, understated, too-short excerpt from it in the Pear production).

The Pear's quartet of stars have an easy rapport with one another, giving the audience the sense that they're witnesses to longtime friends enjoying a cocktail party. All the cast members have worked together at the Pear before, so that may well be how they feel, too. If not, they certainly hide it well. Their enthusiasm and chemistry is infectious, with Craig commanding the stage and seeming to make eye contact with each and every audience member. Kapler, always delightful, does the most believable British accent of the group (they all go in and out of accents, which could be distracting if it weren't for the fact that, thanks to the show's format, they're all tackling so many parts and songs anyhow). Rhone offers smooth vocals worthy of a vintage crooner. Though he's a great singer, his spoken performance of "I Went to a Marvellous Party" is, for me, a highlight. It's a perfect delivery of Coward's catty rhymes, mocking and celebrating his high-society exploits: "I went to a marvellous party, with Nounou and Nada and Nell. It was in the fresh air and we went as we were and we stayed as we were, which was Hell." Another sharp-tongued, humorous highlight is "Mrs. Worthington," in which the entire ensemble, with increasing vehemence, begs an overeager mother not to put her unappealing daughter on the stage. "Oh, Coward!" is dear to the hearts of both Craig and Tasca, as each performed in productions of it decades earlier, adding an additional poignancy to their bringing it "home" to the Pear together.

The stage looks great, with swanky, sparkly Art Deco-ish decor by Craig and gorgeous clothing by Tasca (the gentlemen in tuxedos and smoking jackets; ladies in cocktail frocks and evening gowns). Arington, as sole accompanist, has a tough job to do. On opening night, he unfortunately seemed to have a bit of trouble getting into the swing of things. Choreography by Michael Saenz keeps the cast on their toes, with a simple but enjoyable mix of ballroom dancing and music-hall moves.

I suppose there must be people out there who don't enjoy Noel Coward and if so, "Oh, Coward!" would definitely not be their cup of tea. To quote the master himself, though, despite a few quibbles, "I couldn't have liked it more."

What: "Oh, Coward!"

Where: Pear Theatre, 1110 La Avenida St., Mountain View.

When: Through July 15; Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sundays at 2 p.m.

Cost: $28-$32.

Info: Go to thepear.org.

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