On Theater: 'Can-Can' kicks up its heels at Playhouse

Cole Porter wrote a plethora of hit songs in his day and also found time to score several Broadway shows, such as "Anything Goes" and "Kiss Me, Kate," which have been revived locally on occasion.

One Porter musical that's been absent from local stages is "Can-Can," and small wonder. The costuming demands alone would scare off most directors. But Larry Watts is not only a director and choreographer, he's also a costume designer.

Watts' elaborate production of "Can-Can" starts off the new year at the Huntington Beach Playhouse and illustrates another reason for its avoidance — the requirement that all of its cast members attempt a French accent. This often results in an absence of clarity in what otherwise is a quite enjoyable production.

Of course, the director also is aware of a key element in a successful musical — inserting the glorious Adrianna Sanchez into its leading role. It's worked with the playhouse's versions of "The Sound of Music" and "Gypsy" in the recent past, and it certainly scores highly here.

Sanchez portrays Pistache, the owner of a Paris night club in which its dancers exhibit the forbidden number, which gives the show its title. She also gets the chance to demonstrate her superb voice with solos like "Live and Let Live" and "I Love Paris."

A new young jurist, Christopher Peduzzi (paired with Sanchez in both "Sound" and "Gypsy"), poses a legal threat, but becomes a romantic ally. Peduzzi is quite solid in a straight role, surrounded by comical characters and limited by a contrived Abe Burrows' story line that requires the pair to part briefly before reuniting at the conclusion.

Kyle Myers, normally a superior comic actor, is directed to egregiously overplay his volatile Bulgarian sculptor with an unpronounceable surname (containing three Zs) to the point that his sheer volume produces cringing in the first few rows.

His presentational acting style might fit in the show's time period (1893) but seems outdated today, although his bluster does nicely contrast with his tub-of-jelly demeanor when faced with physical harm.

There's plenty of comedic shtick to go around. Samuel Goldman, Mark Phillips and Matt Williams score as fellow goofy artisans, while Gavin Quan waxes haughtily as an overbearing art critic.

Lauren Cicerone excels as Myers' lusty can-can dancer flame. She and her troupe of overdressed chorines (Jeanine Barba, Sara Bozin, Jessica Porter, Natalie Tolar and Emily Turner) cut a pretty mean rug in their specialty numbers.

Andrew Otero, who functions as set designer, scenic artist and set dresser, has created a trio of primary backdrops — dance hall, courtroom and studio — which are transported on and off stage with impressive dispatch. End-of-scene blackout cues are occasionally tardy, leaving actors with virtual egg on their faces.

"Can-Can" is one musical that doesn't suffer from local overexposure. Its plot may be as old as its time period, but the singing and dancing compensate splendidly in this ambitious and enthusiastic revival at the Huntington Beach Playhouse.

TOM TITUS covers the local theater scene for the Independent.

If You Go

What: "Can-Can"

What: Huntington Beach Playhouse

Where: Library Theater, 7111 Talbert Ave., Huntington Beach

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. on Sundays until Jan. 29

Tickets: $18-$20

Call: (714) 375-0696

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