Broadway review: Harry Connick Jr.’s strange & elaborate Cole Porter tribute

Harry Connick Jr. croons some of Cole Porter’s classic tunes in “True Love: A Celebration of Cole Porter” (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

In an ideal world, recording artist and actor Harry Connick, Jr. would have returned to Broadway earlier this year in the Roundabout Theatre Company’s revival of Cole Porter’s “Kiss Me, Kate” alongside Kelli O’Hara.

Back in 2006, Connick and O’Hara won acclaim in the Roundabout’s revival of “The Pajama Game,” another golden age musical comedy.

But Connick has a history of making odd choices when it comes to musical theater. In 2011, he led a lavish but disastrous revisal of the 1960s flop “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.” And last year, Connick starred in a misconceived musical adaptation of the 1970s heist film “The Sting” at Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey.

Just in time for the holidays, Connick has returned to Broadway with a new stage concert. One might have expected it to be a straightforward Christmas concert given his history of prior albums such as “What a Night! A Christmas Album,” “Harry for the Holidays” and “When My Heart Finds Christmas.” 

Oddly, instead of doing “Kiss Me, Kate,” no doubt Porter’s finest musical, Connick is paying tribute to Porter with a strange and elaborate 90-minute cover concert, coinciding with his new album “True Love: A Celebration of Cole Porter.” Backed by a large, swinging jazz band, Connick’s set list includes Porter classics such as “Anything Goes,” “I Love Paris,” “Just One of Those Things,” “Begin the Beguine” and “You Do Something to Me.” 

The over-the-top, overloaded concert (which has stage direction, music arrangements, and orchestrations by Connick) also contains lecturing, gushing praise (I lost count of how many times he referred to something as his favorite Porter song), a bizarre short film starring Connick (in which he wanders like Indiana Jones through a giant Cole Porter statute) bits of digital animation, rolled-on pieces of scenery and even tap-dancing. To be precise, Connick tap dances on top of a massive piano alongside an actor who apparently represents Cole Porter.

At my performance on Tuesday night, Connick (wearing a tux and clutching a wireless microphone) at first looked stiff and dazed and sounded wobbly. His remarks to the audience about Porter were effusive but rudimentary. Attempts to turn some songs into dramatic scenes (set in such locales as an underground New Orleans bar or a lonely hotel room) were corny and dull.

But as the concert progressed, Connick became more at ease and segued into his persona as a smooth, Sinatra-style crooner. He was most in his element while playing at the piano alongside the band, instead of trying to be a showman. Connick also seemed to enjoy leading a behind-the-scenes tutorial about how he arranged and orchestrated Porter’s “Night and Day.” 

2.5 stars

“Harry Connick, Jr.: A Celebration of Cole Porter” runs at the Nederlander Theatre through Dec. 29. 208 W. 41st St., harryconnickjr.com.

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