The exceptional Debby Lennon traipses the light fantastic in ‘Love, Linda’
- Written by Tina Farmer
Max and Louie productions takes a look at the music and personal life of Cole Porter through the eyes of his adoring wife Linda, as played by the vivacious and always watchable Debby Lennon. The theatrical musical is filled with intimate versions of some of Porter’s most memorable songs, particularly the love songs, and an ongoing narrative in the voice of Porter’s wife, Linda.
Nearly a decade older than her husband, Mrs. Porter was a woman of considerable financial independence - she could afford to do what she pleased and marry whom she wanted. She loved parties and attention, tried not to pay any mind to whispers and gossip, and was quite aware of her husband’s love of men. When she met Porter, she fell head over heals for the younger composer and, with the exception of a period of separation, theirs was a lifelong, if unconventional, love story.
Lennon gives a technically perfect performance as Linda Porter and it is particularly pleasing to hear her warm and buttery lower register featured in the selected songs. She delivers delicately nuanced, soulful versions of standards as well as a few lesser-known tunes. There’s a nice easy swing to “Let’s Do It.” “In the Still of the Night” and “I Love Paris” are almost haunting, while “Always True to You in My Fashion” is tinged with regret, but there’s a purity of tone throughout that softens even the most heartbreaking notes. Director Ken Page ensures introspection as well as some lovely moments directed to the audience and music director Greg Schweizer and the small band emphasize the intimate nature of the material.
The music is perfectly captivating as just right for the Marcelle stage. The effect is that of a small cabaret, the drawback of this is that it often feels more like Lennon singing her favorite Porter tunes and throwing in a few facts rather than Mrs. Porter sharing her life story. There's simply a lack of connection here, and a superficiality to the dialogue that belies the deeply personal interpretation of the music. The issue feels like it resides in the script, which seems purposefully introspective but sounds shallow and overly kind to history. The direction and intention moves with purpose, but there's a distinct lack of complexity or detail needed to make this a truly compelling story.
In addition, there are a few non-sequiturs, such as Mrs. Porter referencing a late 20th century film about her and Porter, that fall flat rather than adding texture or interest to the history lesson. The result is a story that comes across rather like a book report. Luckily, Lennon’s performance, filled with superb phrasing and a sense of longing, is captivating and well worth enjoying.
The set design, by Dunsai Dai, is a small boudoir and sitting area on two-step floor painted to look like a grand piano keyboard, adds to the sense of the personal. Michael Perkins’ thoughtful, elucidative projections are gorgeously framed within art deco-style leaded-glass windows. Teresa Doggett conveys a sense of understated style and wealth in the white embellished gown and beautifully fitted overcoat, while the lighting, by Patrick Huber, and sound, by Philip Evans, enhance the mood. The feeling is chic and expensive, and Lennon moves with a gliding step that suggests a woman comfortable, if somewhat lonely, in the world she inhabits.
“Love, Linda,” a Max and Louie Productions show at the Marcelle, continues through January 27. While I may have preferred to see Lennon develop her own Porter cabaret and to hear her influences and interpretations of his story, the show is thoroughly engaging and an absolute delight to listen to. Under the sure direction of Page, a man who understands how to make a quiet song reverberate, Lennon’s interpretations are pensive and genuinely heartfelt, and it would be hard to remain unmoved by the evocative show.