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BWW Exclusive: YOU'VE GOT THAT THING Celebrates the Life of Cole Porter

His life was an agonizing mix of tragedy and triumph. Immensely talented, his musical creations have stood the test of time, constantly being revived and performed around the globe. Yet, despite this sizeable contribution to the music industry there is so much that we are still left to wonder about the man that was Cole Porter. Perhaps it is these unanswered questions that create the intrigue around the man that still thrives today. To many he may seem a complex paradox that defies explanation. To others he was the epitome of a loving spirit, one that could not find a home in the time into which he was born. To most who have heard his work he is simply delightful. 'You've Got That Thing!', which is playing as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival, sets out to explore these various dimension of Cole Porter.

A video preview of the show is contained below.

Written by Izaak Lim and Nick Maclaine, with musical direction from Mia Brine, 'You've Got That Thing!' offers a reflective look at the life of Cole Porter, drawing on his immense pool of work to tell his story. Some clever design by the writing team has seen the show structured to tell Porter's story through those who were around Porter at the time. This results in a cast of three, with the characters being Ethel Merman (played by Analisa Bell), Linda Porter (played by Brianna Williams), and Edward (played by Mitch Roberts). Collectively, this trio encapsulate the various dimensions of Porter's life and offer perspectives that explore Porter as both a man and an artist.

Linda Porter was Cole's wife of thirty-five years, with the pair only separated after Linda passed away from emphysema in 1954. Brianna Williams, a WAAPA graduate, plays the role of Linda in You've Got That Thing. Williams observes that the show offers a different perspective of Porter, providing a "raw, rough look at who he was...[that] teaches you to love Cole even more." Linda's relationship with Cole Porter is always an interesting aspect of investigation, since Cole Porter's homosexuality always factors in the equation of how the marriage worked. Reflecting on these different aspects of Cole Porter, Williams observes, "he loves her as much as he can, without ever being fully in love with her." Williams equates this to the idea of unreciprocated love that ultimately forged strength in Linda. As the relationship progresses and she faces the increasing realization that "romance and lover were two different things for Cole" there is also what Williams observes as being "a love there that was very profound between the two of them." As the fortunes of Cole Porter change so too does the nature of the relationship with Linda. For Williams the highlights for Linda include "I've Got You Under My Skin" and "So In Love. Williams sees the former of these as key in setting the tone of the character, while the latter is a simple and strong expression of the underlying affection Cole and Linda share, with Linda's concept of romance being "what she creates with Cole Porter."

Ethel Merman also features in You've Got That Thing, with the role being played by Analisa Bell. Merman was a key part of Porter's professional career, having played in five of Porter's shows - including the long-running Panama Hattie. Merman's career is effectively depicted in the show Bell observes that Merman evolved into a figure who was "really bawdy, really ballsy...just naughty", someone who was sufficiently confident in herself to actually be herself. The relationship between Merman and Porter is described in an interesting manner by Bell, who comments "that it would seem that Ethel became his muse for quite some time", also observing that the two "had a mutual respect for each other, which comes out in the show as well." The physical absence of a character depicting Cole Porter does not detract from the show according to Bell, as she stated that "we feel like he's there the whole's really very much a tribute to him" through the eyes of those who knew and observed him from close and afar. With the task of performing "Let's Fall In Love" as part of her role, Bell notes the natural gift Porter had with words, making his songs "vibrant, fun, and cheeky...but also really sentimental and beautiful at the same time." For Bell they also present an added challenge of remembering where in the song she is up to and grappling with the vast array of animals that are mentioned in the well known upbeat number. While Bell mentions the challenge of playing such a big, well-known person - arguably one of the biggest names in musical theatre in the first six decades of the twentieth century - she has brought her own interpretation and personality to the role.

The final part of the triangle on Porter is that of Edward, played by WAAPA graduate Mitch Roberts, who described Edward as egotistical, as well as blinkered in how he relates to Porter, while also being youthful and optimistic about the emergence of musical theatre. In many ways this is parallel to Porter and his works, which often pushed boundaries, challenged the censors, and encouraged a broader perspective from the audience. Characterized in a narrator style, Edward provides what Roberts described as "the eyes through which we see the events and the history of Cole Porter's life and times." An intriguing angle of this narrator role is its almost trans-temporal aspect that acknowledges a Porter's homosexuality - something that would have been largely unspoken during Porter's time. Roberts comments that Edward is the embodiment of Porter's male lovers who "never really got the press time because it [homosexuality] wasn't really something that was talked about but was still very much present in his life at the time."

Porter lived what many at the time would have viewed as an unconventional lifestyle. Despite this, Roberts thinks that Porter's large appeal came from the way "he captured this essence of fun and frivolity not only in the luxurious way that he led his own life" but also through his ability to offer an escape from reality at a time when markets were crashing and the depression was looming. In that sense, Porter was the embodiment of suspended disbelief at a time when the world wanted nothing more. This is a salient point in Porter's life - as much as he created work that, in a sense, avoided reality, the reality of his own life was often traumatic and tragic from which he himself would have sought relief. Roberts points out that this is captured in the show through such events as Porter's crippling riding accident and the passing of Linda.

Through the many events and three perspectives that are triangulated, You've Got That Thing offers competing perspectives on Cole Porter. It is through the eyes of those close to Porter that we see Porter in a new light, with the show promising to challenge traditional perceptions of Porter as well as invoke a wider appreciation of his musical genius. With a play list of such quality and as extensive as Porter's, you would expect that those who see You've Got That Thing would find him oh so easy to love.


WHEN: 16-21 September 2014
WHERE: The Butterfly Club, Carson Place (off Little Collins Street), Melbourne
TIME: 8pm Tuesday, Wednesday, Sunday; 9pm Thursday, Friday, Saturday

IMAGES: Special Sauce

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