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A sprightly romp through the musical life and times of Cole Porter

De-Lovely is a stylish tribute to the music of Cole Porter that dazzles and sparkles with musical performances, but might disappoint fans of the genre who like their musicals to be more upbeat and extravagant in song and dance.

The movie begins with an elderly Cole Porter (Kevin Kline), sitting alone at the piano in his New York apartment and playing a melancholy melody when a mysterious stranger, Gabe (Jonathan Pryce), appears out of nowhere and whisks him away to a stage rehearsal of what plays out to be a spectacular revue of the composer's life and relationships.

Gabe orchestrates a series of vignettes that span 40 years of Cole's life and celebrate the songwriter's highs and lows, jumping from his gay days in post-World War I Paris salons, where he meets his muse and future wife, Linda (Ashley Judd), to palatial residences in Venice where the well-to-do and well-connected Porters entertain the rich and famous, to New York where the party-heady young composer establishes his name and reputation on Broadway, to Hollywood where his public cavorting around town threatens his relationship with Linda and his career, to Williamstown, Mass., where the aging couple is reunited after Cole's horseback riding accident, which left him wheelchair bound, and where he writes his greatest hit musical: "Kiss Me Kate."

Produced and directed by Irwin Winkler (whose musical producer credits include New York, New York and Round Midnight) from a script by Jay Cocks (Gangs of New York), De-Lovely paints, in broad strokes, an impressionistic portrait of a gay musical genius and his relationship to a woman, who, by tolerating and indulging his extravagant lifestyle and foibles, inspired him to write some of the most enduring songs of the twentieth century. Kline and Judd give their best to bring to life the complicated 35-year relationship between Cole and Linda. The sets and look and feel of the movie are as stylish and elegant as the couple's wardrobes (courtesy of Giorgio Armani's vintage collection).

The real star of the movie, however, is the music and lyrics of Cole Porter. De-Lovely features some thirty Porter songs, produced and arranged by veteran composer Stephen Endelman (Flirting with Disaster), which advance the film's stagy plot from one biographical episode to another, mellifluously strung together like the notes in a Porter melody.

Each song has been selected for its musical qualities and lyrical power to communicate a particular mood and certain details of Porter's public or private life as it unfolds on stage and in song-and-dance flashbacks. Hoping that the work of this legendary songwriter will find its way to the ears of a new generation of listeners, Winkler showcases an ensemble of contemporary songwriters and musicians, who project the class and charm appropriate to performers of Porter's era as they sing and dance their way through musical cameos- Robbie Williams delights the Porters' wedding guests with the breezy "It's De-Lovely"; Elvis Costello rocks the house at one of the Porters' Venetian social affairs with "Let's Misbehave"; Alanis Morissette delivers an inspired performance of "Let's Do It, Let's Fall in Love"; Sheryl Crow dazzles with the sublime "Begin the Beguine"; Simply Red's Mick Hucknall croons "I Love You"; Diana Krall lends her velvet voice to an enthralling rendition of "Just One of Those Things"; Vivian Green renders a bitter-sweet interpretation of "Love for Sale"; French powerhouse Lara Fabian does "So in Love"; and Natalie Cole drizzles through "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye".

Musical fans who have been spoiled by the extravaganzas of Moulin Rouge and Chicago, however, might be a bit disappointed with De-Lovely. Although the characters on occasion spontaneously break out in obligatory song and dance numbers, the film is long on songs and staged performances and dialog, and a bit short on choreography. Still, De-Lovely is sure to be a contender at the 2005 Academy Awards.