What's it like listening to two-plus hours of Cole Porter songs? That depends on how you feel about Cole Porter.---
Here's what you need to know about the Santa Fe Playhouse's production of Cole. It's, well, not a normal play. It's kind of like a jazz opera—a string of 49 musical numbers, interwoven with narrative monologues from members of the cast, including extracts by Calvin Tomkins, and F Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald—that follows a more-or-less chronological story arc. The end result is an animated, colorful song-and-dance show that hiccups awkwardly during the narration.
Consequently, the first and second halves (on either side of intermission) have very different feels. Part one, which contains 23 musical numbers mostly (though not entirely) from Porter's early career, contains more narration. As such, at just over an hour, it tends to drag. Part two, at 26 musical numbers including the entr'acte, focuses more on Porter's later career, and has less narration. As such, it flows better.
The problem is two-fold. First, the lack of characterization for the multitudinous narrator figures means that the monologues hinge largely on the actors' individual stage presences. This isn't always a good thing. Second, part one is more heavily seeded with solos, while part two tends toward ensemble pieces. The ensemble pieces—colored by Cheryl Odom and Mannie Jacobo's dynamic costuming, and Jojo Sena-Tarnoff and Linda Morgan's choreography—are lively and the chorus accomplishes a rich sound. The solo pieces, which vary from subdued to playful to thought-provoking, suffer from a lack of consistency due to variations in performers' individual skill.
These quirks, combined with the lack of conventional story development, run the risk of making the production feel longer than it should. Still, for Cole Porter aficionados, the show makes for a pleasing musical romp through some of the world's favorite tunes and even a few you may not have heard of.