Cole Porter married socialite Linda Lee Thomas, ten years his senior, in 1919 in Paris and their union endured thirty-five years despite his frequent dalliances with men. This was, of course, an era when gay love was not only hush-hush but a crime.
It’s this relationship that forms the intriguing premise for the one-woman musical, conceived and performed by Stevie Holland with Gary William Freidman. While it is an amusing gallop through some of Cole Porter’s best tunes and a series of droll anecdotes, there are times when the evening feels a bit like a reading from a Wikipedia entry with songs.
On paper, the concept of the show promises to be a compelling showcase of some beloved music, contextualised by their unusual marriage. But despite Stevie Holland’s best efforts, Love, Linda is never more than a – superior – exercise in cabaret. In fact, the theater setting seems to hamper the intimate tone of the play, and I was dying for Holland to step off the small stage, a stylish evocation of perhaps an Art Deco salon or hotel bar, and mingle with the audience. One also yearned for more interaction with the musicians, but perhaps Linda’s isolation on stage was symbolic of her loneliness in her marriage.
Holland is an imposing and elegant figure attired in a fabulously fitting black evening dress and physically seems to channel Linda Porter. Here she is a knowing, wisecracking gatekeeper to the lyricist, who only later in the relationship questions the balance of power between her husband and herself. She endeavors to strike a chummy chord, telling us intimate secrets of her marriage to one of the 20th century’s musical greats. But with the exception of one love letter written by her husband to a male ballet dancer, we never delve much beneath a speedy chronology of their life together.
The biographical revelations do bring some new nuances to Cole Porter lyrics particularly “What is this thing called Love” and “Let’s misbehave”. The lyrics: “This funny thing called love/ just who can solve its mystery/ why should it make a fool of me?” resonates anew as does “There’s something wild about you, child, that’s so contagious/ Let’s be outrageous; let’s misbehave.” Accompanied by an excellent trio of piano, bass and drums, Holland delivers the words with fluid style. Her voice, however, seems more suited to belting out the comic numbers such as her hilarious renditions of “The Scampi” and “Miss Otis Regrets.” Love, Linda is a fine evening’s diversion – and those coming hoping for more of a story, will still find a lot to like in the songs.