PERU — For four years, there’s been the seed of a story bouncing around inside Sunny Holtzlander’s head, and it got there by hearing just a few notes on a piano.
During a rehearsal for one of Ole Olsen Memorial Theater’s original productions for The Cole Porter Revue, a piano player jokingly put a country-music baseline to one of Porter’s classic, unmistakably non-country tunes.
“We were all getting a laugh out it,” Holtzlander said. “But then, I got inspired.”
Now if there’s one thing Cole Porter is not, it’s country.
The Peru native, who wrote songs like “Night and Day” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” that have become part of the American songbook, was raised in a wealthy Miami County family and moved to Paris.
His songs are jazzy, sentimental Broadway tunes, not hill-stomping bluegrass or twangy country ballads.
But Holtzlander realized they could be — and make a great story at the same time.
“Hearing the piano player put a country spin on a Porter tune — that inspired me to 'countrify' all his songs,” she said.
That’s what you’ll get if you head to Holtzlander’s new production called “Kountry Fried Cole,” debuting this week during Peru’s 23rd annual Cole Porter Festival.
The revue tells the story of an ordinary family from the Ozarks sending their daughter to Paris to continue her education. When she comes home, she announces her engagement to some man from the French aristocracy.
But for the marriage to happen, the simple country family must pass the Europeans’ scrutiny. What happens next is a slap-stick riot as the Ozarks folks decide to live up to the stereotype of “hillbilly” and plan to send the French running for the hills.
Helping push the story along are around 25 Cole Porter tunes like you’ve never heard them before: accompanied by a banjo and guitar, and sung with a country twang.