Red, Hot & Cole

UTD show brings Porter back to life

Vocal Ensemble III class will stage the play

Published in The Mercury March 19, 2013

Glasses filled with fake alcohol in one hand, unlit cigarettes in the other, the students filed onto the stage to rehearse their upcoming musical “Red, Hot & Cole,” a play adaptation of the life of composer and songwriter Cole Porter.

The Vocal Ensemble III class then ran through each act, practicing each dance number and perfecting the stage lighting. Even with the occasional forgotten line, the cast quickly got back on track and worked to memorize each scene.

Billed as a “swellegent” party, the play spans the life of Porter from 1916 through 1961, from his beginning success as a songwriter for Broadway musicals and Hollywood films to a serious horseback riding accident later in life that would leave him permanently disabled. Among Porter’s notable work are “Anything Goes” and “Kiss Me, Kate,” which in 1949 won the first Tony award for Best Musical.

Neuroscience sophomore Robert Morrison plays Cole Porter in UTD’s production of “Red, Hot & Cole,” which will run March 21-23 at the University Theater. Morrison, whose first major theater role was Uncle Max in his high school production of “The Sound of Music,” said he enjoys portraying Porter despite the challenges of constantly being onstage throughout the play.

“He’s always upbeat,” Morrison said. “He’s just a fun character to play. He’s kind of luxurious and witty but also a big baby.”

The musical’s opening number, “I’m Throwing a Ball Tonight,” is performed by Arts & Performance senior Emily Stephenson who plays two characters: party hostess Elsa Maxwell and actress and singer Ethel Merman. Stephenson said that her similarities with her characters were both a challenge and source of inspiration.

“The characters are very sassy and very loud, and that’s what I’m like,” Stephenson said. “So I have to find ways to make them their own characters and not just play myself. It’s difficult, but it’s also fun.”

Some of the cast members have known director and Arts & Performance professor Kathryn Evans for several years, allowing her to see their development as performers.

“The best part of directing is seeing the growth from where (the students) start when we do that first read-through and where they get to by the time we get to show,” Evans said. “Then I get to sit out in the audience and enjoy it.”

Still, Evans said that it is almost impossible for her to watch the play as a regular audience member. Instead, Evans often has each line of the play running through her mind and enjoys watching the audience’s reactions.

One of the reasons “Red, Hot & Cole” was selected was its large number of available roles.

“We have 13 principals; everybody gets their solo moment, and that’s really important for singers to have that,” Evans said.

Global business junior Chelsea Wolfe, who plays Dorothy Parker and Hedda Hopper, said she expects the audience will enjoy every part of the musical.

“We have worked so hard on this show and in so little time, and I’m proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish,” Wolfe said. “I hope people come out and see the show because we put our hearts and souls into it. The singing, the dancing and the acting — I think the audience will like it all.”

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