Following the format of last year’s Party at the Gershwins, host Sean Hartley successively welcomes guest artists who enter with the sound of a doorbell, perform, and withdraw to an ersatz living room setting replete with refreshments. Between vocalists, Hartley fills us in with historical and entertaining notes about the honoree and guessing contests (cast against audience) featuring Porter’s oeuvre.
In fact, the genial host tells us, married in 1918, Linda and Cole Porter fraternized neither with the likes of this audience nor with his show business peers, but rather with a society circle representing her background. Unlike most popular songwriters of his era, Porter was “a rich little boy who married more money and didn’t need to write to earn a living.”
Hartley himself opens with a spirited “Another Op’nin’, Another Show” (Kiss Me, Kate 1948). Skips, hops, and hand gestures are infectiously reminiscent of Eddie Cantor. Guest number one, Farah Alvin, offers Porter’s first hit song, “Let’s Do It” (Paris 1928) in an understated, flirty rendition with pretty vibrato. Later, Alvin returns in a copacetic duet of “From this Moment On” (Out of This World 1950) with Michael Winther. Isabel Keating renders a demonstrative “The Physician” (Nymph Errant 1933). The marvelous, droll, rarely heard tune requires and is here performed with personality.“ Too Darn Hot” (Kiss Me Kate 1948) is sung by reliably excellent Gabrielle Stravelli with heat, finesse, and skill. (She makes it look easy.)
Isabel Keating, Evan Rees, Sean Hartley
Hartley enumerates “The 7 Ages of Cole”: 1. Born in Peru, Indiana reaping the benefits of his grandfather’s great wealth. 2. Boarding school back east, followed by Yale – for which Porter wrote sports anthem “Bulldog! Bulldog.” 3. The 1916 production of his first Broadway show See America First with Clifton Webb – which flopped. 4. Withdrawing to Paris, Porter entertained lavishly. He met and married Linda Lee Thomas, a wealthy Kentucky divorcee eight years his senior. They lived abroad ten years.
5. At 37, his second Broadway show, Paris, was a hit. Porter became “the toast of the town.” For the next ten years, there were successes in New York and Hollywood. 7. 1938, Porter’s legs were crushed in a riding accident. He endured successive operations, but continued to put out a show every year. The writer’s most popular effort, Kiss Me, Kate ended this period. Both legs had to be amputated. Linda died of emphysema in 1954. Porter never wrote another song, spending the remaining six years of his life in relative seclusion. He passed in 1964.
Lora Lee Gayer (and her enormous martini prop)
Charlotte Maltby’s “Make It Another Old Fashioned Please” (Panama Hattie 1940) showcases her splendid voice as well as acting chops. We believe her. The song begins a section Hartley calls Cole Porter and Love. “In many ways his marriage to Linda was ideal, but sex was not one of those ways.” His wife was aware of Porter’s (gay) orientation. Porter apparently had little emotional attachments to serial partners. The host calls these songs “dazzling, but not deep.”
“Give Him the Ooh La La” (Dubarry Was a Lady 1939) is adorable as performed by Lora Lee Gayer whose coquettish demeanor (and babydoll dress) perfectly embodies both song and era. (Look out Kristin Chenoweth, there’s someone at your heels.) At first given to ingénue Betty Grable, the number was usurped by star Ethel Merman. The always welcome Karen Ziemba follows with “At Long Last Love.” (You Never Know 1938) In fine voice, the actress is effervescent.
As newly written/updated by Hartley, Kate Baldwin’s “Let’s Not Talk About Love” (Let’s Face It 1941) is articulate, biting and clever skewering figures in politics, sports, media and entertainment. Baldwin’s perfect enunciation, wry delivery, and theatrical phrasing sparkle. The audience then sings along with tonight’s cast on “Anything Goes” (Anything Goes 1934). Though lyrics are printed in the program, it’s clear many don’t need them.
Other artists include: Jeff Kready and (his wife) Nikki Renee Daniels who jauntily duet; an animated Jason Robinson; Darius De Haas with an intriguingly dramatic version of a prostitute’s “Love for Sale” (The New Yorkers 1930). (The song was originally performed by a White actress, then given to a Black performer when scandal erupted); Alysha Unphress whose melodious “I Get a Kick Out of You” (Anything Goes 1934) danced in with appealing brightness and lyric insight – You do not adore me, she sings with furrowed brow.
Photos by David Andrako.
Broadway Close Up: Party at the Porters
Music Director- Evan Rees
Host- Sean Hartley
Merkin Hall at Kaufman Music Center
129 West 67th Street
COMING UP: Monday November 7, 2022 7:30 pm Broadway Close Up: Broadway in the ‘60s – From “The Sound of Music” to “Hair” Monday December 5, 2022 7:30 p.m. Broadway Close Up: Broadway Herstory