Red Alert! Millinery Musical Takes Over Harrah's

Friday February 02, 07
by David Cuthbert, Times-Picayune Lagniappe

'Does anyone still wear a hat?" Stephen Sondheim asked famously, in "Company."

Well, they were wearing them last weekend at Harrah's where the musical revue "Hats!" opened and the audience was a veritable sea of red hats.

"Hats!" glorifies The Red Hat Society, a worldwide phenomenon of women 50 and older whose motto is "fun, friendship and frivolity." Hats off to whom- ever got this marketing bee in her bonnet, since there is a huge audience to be tapped.

The glitzy, Las Vegas-style revue of musical numbers, most by noted songwriters, is ably and sometimes excitingly performed by a first-rate company of seven women, telling individual stories of the positive reinforcement -- nay, magic -- of the scarlet sombrero.

The central figure is MaryAnne, about to turn 50, who has only a vague idea of what lies ahead. She is played and sung by the personable, vibrant Carrie La Soutos. Unfortunately, her guide to a fuller life is a half-puppet inner child named Ruby Red Hat. A little of this character goes a long way. Happily, there are other, more appealing escorts to ease MaryAnne down the road to the menopause that refreshes. I especially liked Sharon McKnight as the Dame, who brassily belts out "Empty Nest" by Carol Hall and the sublimely assured Duchess of Maxine Weldon, who announces, "I don't have hot flashes, I have power surges." And then sings:

"There may be snow on the roof,

The foundation's shot

But if you're in my kitchen,

You'll find my oven's still hot."

Lynda Diane Reed is the Contessa, who leads "Cinco Pasos de la Vida" ("Five Steps of the Life") by Melissa Manchester and Sharon Vaughan. Barbara Lauren, as the Baroness, draws "The Older the Fiddle, the Sweeter the Tune" a rollicking hoedown by Pam Tillis. Terry Palasz is the soprano Princess who feels "Invisible," while Patricia Welch urges "Celebrate," which has a lyric by Gretchen Cryer ("I'm Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road").

The evening is summed up by "A Big Red Hat" (lyrics by Amanda McBroom, of "The Rose" fame) and "Put Your Red Hat On," (music by "Dreamgirls" composer Henry Krieger, words by Susan Birkenhead, the "Jelly's Last Jam" lyricist).

The book, by Marcia Milgrom Dodge and Anthony Dodge, gets the show from song to song with sassy lines such as "Don't worry about temptation; as you grow older, it avoids you" and a few icky ones: "A memory is a picture that you take with your heart."

Lynn Taylor-Corbett ("Swing!") has efficiently directed and choreographed. Pieter Grove's scenery features three gigantic, revolving hats and a hat box bandstand contains the four-piece local musical ensemble, which sounds showroom grand under Larry Sieberth's direction. Jason Kantrowitz's lighting has Vegas splash, while Lani McCluster's costumes have a sequined shimmer.

"Hats" has a bit of an assembly-line aura about it, but it's good-looking-and-sounding entertainment and I'd be mad as a hatter if I didn't report that every urban and suburban turban in sight seemed to consider it a feather in her cap to be there.

 photograph (cast).