BWW Review: LOVE, LINDA Gives Voice to Porter's Muse

BWW Review: LOVE, LINDA Gives Voice to Porter's Muse
Photo by John Lamb

Max & Louie Productions has opened its 10th season with the St. Louis premier of the one-woman show Love, Linda at The Marcelle. Debby Lennon, a member of the St. Louis Symphony Chorus for 31 seasons, plays the elegant Linda Lee Thomas (aka Mrs. Cole Porter), whose devotion to her husband drove much of his career. She, a wealthy divorcee, begins by telling how she mistook a piano-playing Porter for the "hired help" at a wedding reception and invited him to entertain at a dinner party soon after. Despite the blunder, Porter showed up to play and their partnership blossomed.

Although they loved one another deeply, Linda tells us from this vantage point late in her life, his covert (and then, flagrant) romantic interest in men paired with his career ambition created many hurdles in the marriage. The union was fraught with longing, loneliness, and heartache amidst the glitz and lavishness of their fame. She sure did like the prestige that came with being the wife of Cole Porter, though, and Linda (seeming at times like an insufferable opportunist, yet eternally sincere in her own mind) narrates the story of their lives together, interspersed with many of her husband's beloved songs. Some favorites like "Love For Sale," "In the Still of the Night," and "Night and Day" are expected; others will be a surprise. Some seem a bit forced and crammed into the storyline, but all are exquisitely performed by Lennon.

Accompanying musicians are Guy Cantonwine on bass, Kevin Gianino on drums, and Greg Schweizer on piano, and they sound fantastic, although hidden from view. What a fun surprise to find them looking so classy too, dressed in full formal wear at curtain!

BWW Review: LOVE, LINDA Gives Voice to Porter's Muse
Photo by Dunsai Dai

Dunsi Dai's scenic design, reminiscent of the Porters' Waldorf Astoria apartment, is settled on top of a grand piano-shaped stage, flanked with handsome art deco details. Three screens serve up sepia images and videos that lend depth and context to Linda's story. Lennon's glamorous makeup and finger-curled locks compliment Teresa Doggett's stunning white gown and red satin topcoat.

The performance I saw was not without issue, as the sound dropped in and out throughout. It was more than a little distracting, especially in a packed house where everyone was whispering about it, and it is the unfortunate design of a one-person show that won't allow for tech fixes between scenes. Alas, the show must go on, and Lennon performed brilliantly in spite of the difficulties. As Linda tells us, a Cole Porter song is a luxury item, and especially so with Lennon's lovely voice, even at sporadically varying volumes. She does an outstanding job of conveying the complexities of this character's legacy, leaving an unsettling awareness in the end of an opulent life half-lived.

BWW Review: LOVE, LINDA Gives Voice to Porter's Muse
Photo by Dunsai Dai

See Love, Linda, with music and lyrics by Cole Porter, book by Stevie Holland with Gary William Friedman, arrangements and additional music by Gary William Friedman, and direction by Ken Page, until January 27 at The Marcelle. For show and ticket information, visit maxandlouie.com.

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From This Author Tanya Seale

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