by Lynn Marie Macy · December 21, 2013
Indie Artists on New Plays #32: Lynn Marie Macy comments on Love, Linda: The Life of Mrs. Cole Porter at the York Theatre
The York Theatre is currently presenting Love, Linda: The Life of Mrs. Cole Porter at St. Peter’s Church. The show is billed as a new musical but this lovely one-woman performance feels more like an intimate evening of cabaret. Singer Stevie Holland takes on the tour de force role of Linda Lee Thomas (November 17, 1883 – May 20,, 1954) and gives us a cursory overview of her relationship and life with iconic musical composer Cole Porter (June 9, 1891 – October 15, 1964). The Porters both came from privileged backgrounds and met and married in Paris in 1919. Linda was a member of the well-known Lee family of Virginia and was previously in an abusive marriage with Edward Russell Thomas (who has gone down in history for being the first person in America to kill someone with a car) By the time they married Linda was well known for being a fashion icon. Cole came from a wealthy Indiana family and attended Yale and Harvard. In Love, Linda she reports the headlines of the day were, “Man with one million marries woman with two”. She introduced him to the international European set and he began his career in earnest. Linda was eight years older than Cole and in this production with the book written by Holland and Gary William Friedman she expresses not only her love for the composer but also her private anxieties about their differences.
Their relationship was far from perfect. She was often in poor health and he was regularly engaged in homosexual affairs. They experienced a number of separations and Linda hated Hollywood and left him to live in Paris. Everything changed when Cole was in a riding accident in 1937 that crushed his legs. Linda returned to care for him and he was in constant pain enduring 30 operations over the years to try and save his legs. Their relationship was an enduring one of mutual love and nurturing support. Linda died of emphysema in 1954 and Cole Porter eventually had his right leg amputated in 1958 after which he wrote no more music. He died in 1964 having written some 30 musicals (Kiss Me Kate being the most successful) and more than 1,000 songs.
Director Richard Maltby Jr. allows the audience into Linda’s private cosmopolitan space as she reminisces with us about their lives. He keeps the evening rolling at a comfortable place. The show contains sixteen musical numbers including “I Love Paris” “In The Still Of The Night”, “My Heart Belongs to Daddy”, “Let’s Do It”. James Morgan’s set is simple and elegant and lighting by Graham Kindred beautifully illuminates Holland and Porter’s music.
Holland herself, in a beautiful gown by Pamela Dennis does a fine job inhabiting the spirit of Linda Porter. The execution of her songs is sophisticated, fluid and precise. Though she has chosen to give Linda a pronounced Southern accent, which is slightly distracting, her persona remains appealing. Holland’s book is also thin and only gives us a momentary impression of the major events of the lives of “Les ColePorteurs” in a kind of checklist order. While Holland’s performance was moving here and there, the show as a whole lacks any real drama. Fortunately, for someone new to the history of their relationship and his music Love, Linda would be a gentle and truthful introduction (as opposed to the film versions of the Porters’ lives Night And Day (1946) and even the more realistic De-Lovely (2004).
If anything, Love, Linda feels too short as the performance flies by. So, thankfully, the talented Stevie Holland holds our attention and then leaves us wanting more.