Entertainment » Music

Love, Linda - The Life Of Mrs. Cole Porter

by J. Peter Bergman
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Feb 22, 2010
Love, Linda - The Life Of Mrs. Cole Porter

Whether you think of Linda Lee Thomas Porter as Alexis Smith (in 1946's Night and Day) or as Ashley Judd (in 2004's DeLovely), your impression of her is one of great, classic beauty. In the new Off-Broadway/Cabaret musical Love, Linda, she is portrayed by another beautiful woman, Stevie Holland.

Reputedly Linda Lee was a Southern Belle, a beauty, yet the existing photographs of her from the 1910s through the 1930's paint a very different picture: dark-haired, slender and somewhat maternal rather than beautiful and youthful. She was, according to different reports, eight, ten or even fourteen years older than her husband. She divorced a millionaire who was supposedly abusive to his wife and came to the young genius Porter with a confidence, strength and fortune that enabled him to live a life of comparative ease while he pursued his other interests - the composition of eternally wonderful songs and the pursuit of handsome, often athletic, men.

They married in 1919 after his second Broadway show opened and he scored his first real successes as a composer for the theater. Together they created the legend that is Cole Porter. In this new show, the story of their marriage and his career is told from her unique perspective and Stevie Holland tells the story persuasively as she sings many of his finest songs including a few that will spark interest in even the most casual listener. These are songs that are not often heard, one of them an early version of a long-established hit.

The first of these songs, "Ours," is from Red, Hot and Blue and begins "The high Gods above/Look down and laugh at our love..." Coming early on the disc (and in the show), it sets up the honesty mode that Holland pursues in the dialogue written in collaboration with Gary William Friedman. It is a charming song to hear and it creates that ineffable poignancy that the show requires if it is to succeed.

"The Scampi" is an early version of "The Tale of the Oyster," and it is so interesting to hear and note the differences between the two. Some of those are explained by Linda. Late in the show come two more oddities from the Porter canon: "There's a Hollywood That's Good" cut from Silk Stockings and "When a Woman's in Love" originally written in 1943 for the film Mississippi Belle. Both songs are perfect for their places in the story of Linda Porter.

Holland has a wonderful style as she performs Porter. She is true to his intent and his style and in being so is true to the character she portrays. Linda Lee Porter would never have overstepped the boundaries of their relationship by ragging, jazzing, or improvising in any way on the music and words created by her "genius" husband. If she had no speeches to recite, or pronouncements to make, it would be sufficient for Holland to sing as she does in order to create for an audience the reality of Mrs. Cole Porter.

The show premiered in New York last year at the Triad Theatre where it returns for an open ended run on March 3 of this year. The album, clearly created to highlight the show and provide both an impetus and permanent memory of this performance, is a perfect mid-point in its journey. Among the classics she performs are "Miss Otis Regrets," "In the Still of the Night" and "My Heart Belongs to Daddy" and while she is certainly not Monty Woolley, Nelson Eddy or Mary Martin, the songs seem to be hers alone. Only in "Wunderbar" does she truly stray from the composer's intent, but she does so in the context of difficult moments in their lives and it sounds just about right.

This CD is a treasury of tiny trinkets of great worth. Precious and finely etched, there is no weak link in the jewelry chain of music presented in Love, Linda, a recording worth more than its individual parts.

J. Peter Bergman is a journalist and playwright,living in Berkshire County, MA. A founding board member of the Berkshire Stonewall Community Coalition and former New York Correspondent for London’s Gay News, he spent a decade as theater music specialist for the Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives at Lincoln Center in NYC, is the co-author of the recently re-issued The Films of Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy and a Charles Dickens Award winner (2002) for his collection of short fiction, "Counterpoints." His new novel ""Small Ironies" was well reviewed on Edge and in other venues as well. His features and reviews can also be read in The Berkshire Eagle and other regional publications. His current season reviews can be found on his website: www.berkshirebrightfocus.com. He is a member of NGLJA.


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