Sunday, November 01, 2009

On-Stage: Love, Linda

Everyone from Fred Astaire to Charlie Parker has performed the music of Cole Porter. Yet for many biographers, his scandalous private life often overshadows his celebrated songbook. His indiscretions certainly put his wife Linda in difficult positions during their thirty-four year marriage. Now jazz vocalist Stevie Holland gives Linda Porter a chance to take her turn in the spotlight in the one-woman show, Love, Linda: The Life of Mrs. Cole Porter, now open at the cabaret-style Triad Theater on Manhattan’s fashionable Upper Westside.

Backed by a jazz piano trio, Holland performs in the persona of Linda Porter, telling her life story through her beloved husband’s songs, connected by brief dramatic interludes. Linda Lee Thomas was a wealthy divorcee eight years Cole Porter’s senior when they first met in Paris at an exclusive society affair. While his prodigious musical talent was obvious, his penchant for illicit affairs soon became apparent as well. However, it was not other women that Linda Porter had to worry about.

Holland presents a portrait a woman truly in love and perhaps in a bit of denial as well, given the nature and apparent frequencies of her husband’s infidelities. Yet she makes Linda Porter’s decisions understandable in the context of her life. Ultimately, her Linda Porter can forgive her husband quite a bit because she finds his music so sublime.

Indeed, Porter was a master at crafting sophisticated lyrics to catchy melodies, as aptly demonstrated by the songs selected by Holland. In addition to well representing the Porter canon, Love’s musical numbers also serve a real dramatic purpose, nicely underscoring the events of the Porters’ lives (the one exception perhaps being “The Scampi,” a vintage novelty tune, probably included to demonstrate Porter’s whimsical humor).

Throughout the show, Holland gets rock solid support from her trio of pianist Landon Knoblock, bassist Peter Brendler, and drummer Jeff Davis. To her credit, Holland allows Landon space for some brief but swinging jazz-style solos and features Davis quite memorably on “What is This Thing.”

Arranger-orchestrator Gary William Friedman (perhaps best known as the musical director of The Electric Company) also puts an intriguing twist on several familiar Porter standards, like the lamenting torch song “Miss Otis Regrets” which becomes a surprisingly bop-oriented jazz number in Love. While the arrangement of “Love for Sale” is more traditional, Holland performs it with an unusual edge that fits quite well in the context of the show. Perhaps the biggest showstopper though is her achingly romantic rendition of “In the Still of the Night,” which is exactly how audiences want to hear it performed.

Holland clearly has a strong affinity for the American Songbook in general and Porter in particular, interpreting his songs with respect and verve (even scatting a little at one point). She definitely serves the music of Cole Porter and the memory of Linda quite well throughout the show. In many ways, Love, Linda is an elegant fusion of forms. Structurally it is an effective hybrid of cabaret and solo theater, while musically it is a stylish hybrid of cabaret and jazz. It is perfectly suited to the intimate space of the Triad. Now officially open, it runs Wednesday and Saturday nights through November 21st

(Photo courtesy of 150 Productions)