The Original Real Housewives: Cole Porter’s High Society at the Stanley Theatre

Photo by Tim Matheson

Who would have thought that a musical written in the 1950s and set in the 1930s would have so much to say about Vancouver in 2012?

The Arts Club’s production of Cole Porter’s High Society premiered at downtown’s Stanley Theatre last week and runs through June 24.  The musical is about a wealthy Long Island family on the eve of their daughter’s wedding.

It’s campy, light fare, with catchy tunes and plenty of witty one-liners – at least on the surface.  But deeper down – stay with me on this one – it’s a veiled commentary on Vancouver’s own social scene.

Take the lead, for instance, middle-aged socialite Tracy Lord, who’s about to go down the aisle.  In Tracy, we have a perfect prototype for the Real Housewives of Vancouver.  She’s already burned through a few husbands and is about to get married to another young stud.  From the day she was born, she’s been told she’s a princess. She spends her days riding horses and living the high life.  And she’s deeply unhappy.

Tracy’s wedding is infiltrated by a pair of paparazzi working for a gossip magazine called Spy.  Sneaking around the Lords’ palatial home, these working-class hacks are simultaneously disgusted and dazzled by the opulence all around them.  They thumb their noses at the fine silver and china, but secretly envy the good life and want a piece of it.  Sound familiar?  Any young professional in Vancouver – forced to rent a tiny basement suite while the city’s nouveau riche shop for Ferraris and Bentleys on Burrard – knows exactly how they feel.

Photo by David Cooper.

But enough of the analogies, already.  All in all, High Society is a good, lightweight romp.  It’s got the kind of infectious tunes you’d expect from a maestro like Cole Porter (including the classic ode to decadence, Let’s Misbehave), a wonderfully improbable plot and sparkling banter – all complemented by a series of lavish, perfectly lit sets.

Plus, it’s got drunk Uncle Willie, played by veteran thespian Norman Browning.  A lush and a womanizer, Uncle Willie gets away with stuff that seems positively scandalous by contemporary standards, from pinching bottoms to cavorting with the chambermaids.  He’s politically incorrect, immoral, unapologetic and the star of the show: an antidote to the false propriety that pervades our own high society.

Anyone else seen the Arts Club’s High Society?  What did you think?

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