The one-night-only June 27 premiere of “The Ambassador Revue” at The Town Hall near Times Square will mark the first time the 1929 show has ever been staged outside Paris. “Just when you think you’ve heard all of Cole Porter’s songs, here are 20 new ones for people to really have fun with,” says Grammy Award-winning bandleader Vince Giordano, who arranged the show and will sing with his band the Nighthawks. “It’s really thrilling.”
The lost show — a revue with individual singers, tap dancers and showgirls akin to the current Broadway hit “After Midnight” — was written at the beginning of Porter’s career and has hints of his combination of witty lyrics and singable melodies.
“They’re fun. There’s not a classic, I don’t think. But there are the saucy lyrics, the double entendres. There are some romantic ballads and some funny songs,” says author and musical theater historian Ken Bloom, who will direct the revue. “It’s typical Porter on his way to becoming great Porter. You can see everything that’s going to come in just a year or two.”
The variety show will feature Tom Wopat singing a few songs and the veteran of such Broadway shows as “The Trip to Bountiful” and “Catch Me If You Can” said the prospect is exciting. “I’m just proud to be a part of it and it’ll be a lot of fun. It will be revealing in many ways, I’m sure,” said Wopat, who did “Kiss Me Kate” in summer stock. “It sheds some light on his process.”
The original show was staged at the Ambassadeurs nightclub near the Champs-Elysees. It was performed in English by American singers including Morton Downey and Evelyn Hoey. Band leader Fred Waring was also there and, intriguingly, so was George Gershwin’s sister, Frances, who sang her brother’s songs at the piano.
It ran for a few months and then disappeared, with none of the music published in America. Porter would later return to America and go on to write hit songs like “What Is This Thing Called Love,” ”Night and Day,” ”I Get a Kick Out of You,” ”You’re the Top” and “Begin the Beguine.” The variety show slipped into obscurity, with many Porter experts giving up on ever finding its music.
Unearthing the 85-year-old show was labor of love for both Bloom and Giordano, who found the missing music in a Universal Music archive in Milan. A concert of some songs — with titles like “Boulevard Break,” ”Blue Hours” and “Fountain of Youth” — was staged in Paris in 2012.
Then the original orchestrations were discovered in Waring’s archive at Penn State and music was also uncovered for two more songs and a tune that had no lyrics. All will be played at The Town Hall, creating as much as possible the show first heard in Paris in 1929.
It’s actually not the first time that Bloom has discovered a lost Porter tune. While writing a book about songs for the movies, he was rummaging in the Paramount archives when he found a Porter song written for “The Battle of Paris.”
“I accidentally specialize in it, I guess,” he says with a laugh. “I think the point is we just don’t know what’s out there. You just have to be persistent.”