Love, Linda: The Life of Mrs. Cole Porter. Book by Stevie Holland and Gary William Friedman. Songs by Cole Porter. Directed by Ben West. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
“...and make it all ... Ours.”
Linda Lee Thomas met Cole Porter. She was unhappy and had money. He was unsatisfied and had money. They combined their fortunes, established a lifestyle that would make Brangelina jealous, and together they set the world on its musical ear, he writing the most sophisticated songs an American songwriter had ever written and she opening doors, widening horizons and supporting all of his artistic and personal goals, no matter how difficult some of them may have been for her to swallow. Porter was homosexual. Linda was an abuse victim. She was probably 12 or 14 years older than her new second husband. In the cabaret show, “Love, Linda” Stevie Holland and her collaborators tell her story through the sensitive and intelligent lyrics Cole Porter wrote after he met her. Buoyed by his lyrical melodies and his sly sense of humor her own story, reflecting his naturally, gives us the most pertinent picture of the woman behind this man who loved other men. Alone, except for her three-piece band, surrounded by roses, on a small stage with a proscenium arch that calls up the early 20th century with its fancy red and gold baroque appearance, Holland sings songs that open up the heart along with the ears, songs that give us a perfect picture of the emotional struggles in this marriage. She questions the entire emotional motivation of her taking on the relationship with “What Is This Thing Called Love?” She carresses her future with Porter in “Ours” as she literally caresses the piano, her body and her newfound joy with Cole. She takes “I Love Paris” to the top of the Eiffel Tower as she celebrates the life of unwarranted celebrity based on hard cash and a few topical ditties written to delight the sophisticated Elsa Maxwell crowd that surrounds them. As the marriage settles into a routine that sits behind his new Broadway career, she offers his “Let’s Be Buddies” and then moves into the darker parts of her life as she watches her husband fall in love with young men, handsome and talented men, offering “Love For Sale.” She confirms her state of commitment in hard times with “My Heart Belongs to Daddy,” and at the same time creates a whole new meaning for this delightful ditty. The whole show is like this: Holland moves through the emotional whirlwind of Linda Lee Porter on a dark cloud of Cole Porter songs. That she manages to give a very clear impression of what a woman will endure “When a Woman is in Love” is remarkable and is due, in part, to the oddly sensitive manner in which Ben West has placed her on the stage. She uses a microphone, sometimes with stand, sometimes without and she uses her minimal props. She tells us things the songs won’t reveal and she confides, almost casually, in us the thoughts that must have taken Linda into the decisions she made for both herself and her husband. These include looking the other way as he engaged in his male/male romances, her decision to divorce him and her ultimate devotion to the man during his worst years. The show is wonderfully engaging. Holland sings the Porter songs with a jazz reference but with a straightforward devotion to the Porter originals. Her collaborator on the book of the show, Gary William Friedman, has also done the arrangements and they are right on the money. Friedman's contributions to the show cannot be overlooked. He has created a musical world that surround Linda and even as she speaks to us in her slight southern drawl the music seems present in her every word. Holland is not Linda Lee Porter, but when she gets on the stage at the Triad Theatre, Linda Lee Porter is Stevie Holland. It’s a theatrical miracle worth witnessing.
Love, Linda plays on Wednesday nights at 8PM at the Triad Theatre at 158 West 72 Street in New York. Tickets are $35 plus a two drink minimum. You can book your seats by calling Theatermania at 212-352-3101 or on line at www.Theatermania.com.