I’m delighted to observe that Chicago audiences seem, like me, to have the works of Cole Porter “Under their Skin”. My friend Colin Douglas wrote about Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre’s A Cole Porter Songbook that “this energetic young company gives audiences their money’s worth in every way. This show, this cast is, quite simply, the top!”
I plan to see this production in August now that it has been extended until September 1st. I’m excited to see a young, popular cabaret theater celebrate my favorite composer. Meanwhile I have been attending other Porter feasts: Joan Curto brought her Cole Porter: from Major to Minor to Davenports, and I checked it out. I was thrilled to hear her sing “Most Gentlemen Don’t Like Love” from Leave It to Me. I played the comic lead in a revival of that show at Equity Library Theater in NYC. It has such a rich score and great character parts, the original starred Victor Moore and William Gaxton, Sophie Tucker and a very young Mary Martin.
Then last Wednesday I travelled to the Oil Lamp Theater in Glenview, IL to see The Many Loves of Cole Porter performed by Bob Moreen. Bob is a stalwart in Chicago Cabaret as a performer and music director. He guided the very successful Noel Coward show starring Suzanne Petri & Co. which I admired. His suave and intelligent interpretation of the Porter material was spot-on for those of us who like nothing more than to wax nostalgic about Cole’s love life (in song) and impish creativity. This show will repeat on September 18 and I recommend it.
So why do Cole Porter’s works have so much juice outside the theatre? There have been several successful revues, such as, Cole, A Musical Revue, and Red, Hot and Cole, and others like the above mentioned “Songbook”. One answer may be that Mr. Porter spent many years in a self-imposed exile from Broadway where he amused himself and his friends by singing solo party songs which he wrote for himself. He acquired a very sure sense of what his crowd expected from him and what would amuse them. He brought this well-honed sensibility to his book shows when he finally returned to the fold of Broadway theatre.
Another thought is that he had a wonderful satirical bent. Like the Gershwins he was influenced by Gilbert and Sullivan who brought satire into operetta for English and American audiences. He enjoyed poking fun at select targets in ways that were far more sophisticated than the low-brow humor prevalent in other musical entertainments. It seems to me that he was a great writer of comedy as well as romance.
I also think that Cole Porter’s songs stand on their own so well because he was one of a handful of composers who wrote their own lyrics. So he was collaborating (musically) with himself, which may have resulted in creations that were purer in intent and execution. And he was certainly prolific. If a book song didn’t work, he just wrote others until one did work. Tried and true.
And of course his songs were always theatrical. Even if they were written as specialties for himself or others they were theatre songs, because he was a troubadour, he lived to entertain.
For me, whether the weather is cold or whether the weather is hot, it’s always a season for Cole Porter.