The musical comedy Can-Can, with a book by Abe Burrows, choreography by Michael Kidd, and music and lyrics by Cole Porter, opened on Broadway in May, 1953, and ran for 892 performances. Despite the fact that most critics considered it substandard Porter, it became his second longest-running show (surpassed only by Kiss Me Kate) and made a star of Gwen Verdon who played the lead dancer. An original cast recording helped to promote the popularity of the songs. The show premiered in London in 1954 and was later revived in New York (1981) and London (1988).
The original production starred French actress Lilo, Hans Conried, Peter Cookson, and Verdon. The setting for the production is Paris at the turn of the century where the dance halls feature chorus lines dancing the can-can, an energetic and evocative dance. Costumed in colorful ruffled skirts, high heels and black stockings the dancers kick high, lift their skirts and petticoats, and make suggestive movements. A judge (Cookson) is trying to shut down the dance hall owned by La Mome Pistache (Lilo), but she uses her wiles to convince the judge to legalize the can-can. Despite the legal wrangling, the two fall in love and Cookson sings “It’s All Right with Me” to Lilo. Other hits from the show include “I Love Paris,” “I Am in Love,” and the decidedly French numbers “C’est Magnifique” and “Allez-Vous-En.”
In 1960 a film version of Can-Can featured Shirley McLaine, Frank Sinatra (who sang “It’s All Right with Me”), Maurice Chevalier, Louis Jourdan, and Juliet Prowse. Many of the songs from original production were cut and other Porter tunes inserted.
In his book The Poets of Tin Pan Alley: A History of America’s Great Lyricists Philip Furia points to “It’s All Right with Me” as one of Porter’s great “list” songs. “[It] uses an inventory of dismissive negations to probe beneath the urbane nonchalance of his characteristic lover:
It’s the wrong time and the wrong place,
though your face is charming, it’s the wrong face
”As the step-wise melody reaches its highest note, the singer betrays his anguish--‘It’s not her face’--but immediately reverts to sensuous cool with ‘but such a charming face’ and the laconically seductive turn he gives to the most ordinary of catchphrases, ‘that it’s all right with me.’ These shifts of tone continue in the release.” In the end the singer offers “an arm’s-length proposition” following “that it’s all right with me” with “if some night you’re free.”
According to Thomas S. Hischak in The American Musical Theatre Song Encyclopedia “‘It’s All Right with Me’ is one of Cole Porter’s most haunting torch songs, a beautifully sustained composition with an insistent rhythm and a melody that shifts expertly from major to minor keys. In analyzing Porter’s style in Easy to Remember: The Great American Songwriters and Their Songs William Zinsser says, “...His rhythms were those of society bands, punching us with short bursts of melody.”
In the ‘50s “It’s All Right with Me” was used for an airline commercial. Tom Waits recorded the song on the Red, Hot and Blue CD dedicated to raising funds for AIDS research and treatment. Count Basie, Chris Connor, Ella Fitzgerald, Kai Winding, Erroll Garner, Sonny Rollins, and the Marty Paich Orchestra all recorded the tune.
“It’s All Right with Me” continues to crop up in the repertoire of contemporary artists: pianists Cyrus Chestnut and Ted Rosenthal, guitarist Bireli Lagrene, saxophonist Curtis Fuller, trumpeter Randy Sandke, vocalist Ann Hampton Callaway, and Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band. Vocalist Sara Lazarus’ 2007 album with guitarist Bireli Lagrene uses the Porter tune as its title cut.