High Society is a musical comedy with a book by Arthur Kopit and music and lyrics by Cole Porter. Some updated or new lyrics were provided by Susan Birkenhead. The musical is based on Philip Barry's 1939 stage comedy, The Philadelphia Story and the subsequent 1956 musical film adaptation, High Society, which features Porter's songs. The musical includes most of the music featured in the movie, along with several songs selected from other Porter musicals. It premiered on Broadway in 1998 and has since been revived. Another musical adaptation of the story had opened in London in 1987 with a different book by Richard Eyre.
The plot centers on pretentious Oyster Bay socialite who is planning to wed an equally pretentious executive when her ex-husband arrives to disrupt the proceedings.
Glamorous but pretentious Oyster Bay, Long Island socialite Tracy Samantha Lord is planning a lavish June 1938 wedding to an equally pretentious executive, George Kittredge. Guests include her mother, grumpy little sister, Dinah, and absent-minded Uncle Willy, who lives in a house near the Lord estate. Willy is hosting a party for the wedding guests that evening, the night before the wedding. Tracy's unwelcome ex-husband and neighbor, C.K. Dexter Haven, sails up to the estate in his yacht. Dexter informs Tracy and her family that tabloid reporters Mike Connor and Liz Imbrie will be covering the wedding for Spy while pretending to be guests. Dexter invited them to stop Spy from publishing an exposé of Tracy’s father Seth, who is estranged from Tracy's mother because he is having an affair with a dancer, Tina Mara. Dexter tries to convince the suspicious Dinah of his good intentions.
When Mike and Liz arrive, Tracy and Dinah do not let on that they know of the reporters' charade. Tracy pretends that Uncle Willie is her father, but when her father arrives, she pretends that he is Uncle Willie. Dexter confronts Tracy about their relationship, leaving her confused; suddenly George seems so pompous. She also is finding Mike to be sweet and remembers some good times with Dexter on his yacht. She starts drinking champagne before the party at Uncle Willie's even begins.Act II
After the party, Tracy is still drinking champagne, and she misbehaves, dancing with the staff and Mike. George is angry and embarrassed. Dinah hurries to Dexter's house, finding him packing for a trip. She calls him a coward and informs him that Tracy is drinking champagne, which he knows makes her wild. After many farcical comings and goings back at the estate, George reminds Tracy of their wedding the next day, warns her about her behaviour and stomps away. Mike tells Tracy that George is not good enough for her. He kisses her, and she tipsily invites him to go skinny dipping in the pool. Dexter and Dinah return to witness other romantic entanglements unfolding between Seth and his wife and Uncle Willy and Liz, who really loves Mike. As soon as Tracy gets in the water, the champagne catches up with her, and Mike puts her innocently in her bed.
In the morning, Tracy realizes that she was in the pool with Mike and, her memory hazy, fears that she made love to him, ruining her wedding and social standing. All works out in the end, however, with Tracy’s parents reuniting, the blackmail threat quashed, Mike realizing that he is really in love with Liz, and Tracy reuniting with Dexter. Since the wedding is already scheduled and paid for, Dexter steps up and all ends happily.
High Society premiered at the American Conservatory Theatre of San Francisco in an out-of-town tryout on September 4, 1997 and ran through October 5, 1997. The musical began previews on Broadway on March 31, 1998 and officially opened on April 27, 1998 at the St. James Theatre. High Society closed on August 30, 1998 after 144 performances. The musical was directed by Christopher Renshaw and choreographed by Lar Lubovitch, with assistance from director Des McAnuff and choreographer Wayne Cilento. The cast included Melissa Errico (Tracy Samantha Lord), Daniel McDonald (C.K. Dexter Haven), John McMartin (Uncle Willie), Stephen Bogardus (Mike Conner), Randy Graff (Liz Imbrie), Lisa Banes (Margaret Lord), Marc Kudisch (George Kittredge), a 12-year-old Anna Kendrick (Dinah Lord; Theatre World Award), and Daniel Gerroll (Seth Lord). The original Broadway run was produced by Lauren Mitchell & Robert Gailus, Hal Luftig & Richard Samson, and Dodger Endemol Theatricals, in association with Bill Haber. Designers included Loy Arcenas (sets), Jane Greenwood (costumes), Howell Binkley (lighting), Tony Meola (sound).
The West End production, directed by Ian Talbot with choreography by Gillian Gregory, premiered at the Open Air Theatre at Regent’s Park on July 24, 2003, and following a touring production it transferred to London’s Shaftesbury Theatre. It began previews on October 1, 2005, opened on October 10, 2005, and closed on January 21, 2006. The cast included Katherine Kingsley (Tracy), Graham Bickley (Dexter), Ria Jones (Liz), Paul Robinson (Mike), John McMartin (Willie), Marc Kudisch (George), Claire Redcliffe (Dinah), Jerry Hall (Mother Lord), and James Jordan (Seth).
A revival opened in April 2015 at The Old Vic Theatre, directed by Maria Friedman, with Kate Fleetwood as Tracy Lord, Rupert Young as C.K. Dexter Haven, Jamie Parker as Mike Connor, Barbara Flynn as Margaret Lord, Anabel Scholey as Liz Imbrie, Jeff Rawle as Willie and Ellie Bamber as Dinah, and the production was played in the round. It is scheduled to close in August 2015.
Ben Brantley, in his review for The New York Times, wrote that "spirits are definitely high in 'High Society,' which stars a sadly misused Melissa Errico, but they also feel forced and even desperate. The show, first seen in a tepidly received version in San Francisco, has since undergone drastic retailoring. And it ominously shed its director and choreographer of record, Christopher Renshaw and Lar Lubovitch, during New York rehearsals, with Des McAnuff and Wayne Cilento stepping in to make last-minute revisions. Perhaps that accounts for the feverish, at-sea quality that seems to possess the show's team of talented, proven performers. The production's guiding rule appears to be to do whatever is necessary to land a joke or to sell a song. ... Numbers that should bubble with dry effervescence are more likely to come across as a thick ferment of suds."
Another musical version based on the same source material ran for 420 performances on the West End in 1987–1988 at the Victoria Palace Theatre. It employed the Cole Porter songs from the film, with a book and direction by Richard Eyre. It starred Trevor Eve (Dexter), Stephen Rea (Mike), Angela Richards (Liz), Natasha Richardson (Tracy) and Ronald Fraser (Uncle Willie).