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Yes, fifty million Frenchmen can be wrong

A scene from the 1929 Cole Porter musical

A scene from the 1929 Cole Porter musical "Fifty Million Frenchmen," making its Long Island premiere Jan. 6, 2011, at Center Stage, Levitas Arts Center, Southampton. Credit: Tom Kochie

Fifty million Frenchmen can't be wrong? Maybe. But as sung by a cast of young Americans, the 1929 Cole Porter musical taking its title from that saying does go wrong.

For starters, let's acknowledge that there are good reasons why "Fifty Million Frenchmen" - even with the Porter pedigree - has never been revived on Broadway and is only now making its fully staged Long Island premiere. Like many musicals between "Show Boat" in 1927 and "Oklahoma!" in 1943, "Frenchmen" is too silly to take seriously.

The plot involves a coterie of filthy-rich, college-age Americans who've fled to Paris because Prohibition has spoiled the party back home. With most Parisians of their class escaping for vacation, the guys hit on American tourists. Peter, played by Jack Seabury, is smitten by a Midwesterner traveling with her parents. Looloo, played by Erin Clancy-Balsamo, lives up to her name with dizzy charm. Although love at first sight is common in "Frenchmen," she resists Peter's entreaties. His buddy, sizing up Looloo as a gold digger, bets him that she won't say yes to marrying Peter by the Fourth of July. The catch is that Peter can't use his wealth to woo her.

The rest is filler, and any getting-the-girl suspense is not worth considering. But the songs are. Unhappily, a few singers waste them.

Chief among the exceptions is Clancy-Balsamo, who successfully inhabits the flighty Looloo and teams with Seabury to pull off a creditable "You Do Something to Me." Lauren Rowland as wisecracking Violet shines on the comic "Where Would You Get Your Coat?" and "The Tale of the Oyster," a number thrown in for its clever wordplay that advances the plot not one iota.

Less successful but still passable are the tap-dance duet, Anita Boyer and Adam Fronc, in "You've Got That Thing." Mike Canestraro, as one of the few Frenchmen on Ken Rowland's Parisian set framing black-and-white slides, displays his irritation with Americans admirably.

Other singers under-project Porter's lyrics, making them criminally indecipherable, including one whom director Michael Disher miscast as a chanteuse.

Music director Bobby Peterson's ensemble, however, can carry a tune, reminding us of the delight in Porter's score.

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