nytheatre.com review by Sarah Whalen
November 4, 2009
I entered the Triad Theatre feeling slightly out of place among the older crowd—the white-haired women wearing mink stoles and the martini-drinking men who accompanied them had all claimed their seats early in the evening and I had to squeeze my way through them to find a seat. As odd as I felt, being the only twentysomething for miles, that type of venue is one I've dreamed of and rarely been able to find. It is a cabaret-style theatre (with a two-drink minimum) which is absolutely perfect for a show that chronicles the life and musical genius of Cole Porter and his wife Linda at the birth of the Jazz Age. It had that old-fashioned, glamorous feeling, complete with the sound of clinking glasses and whispering waitresses (although I could have done without the sound of crinkling potato chip bags). I was absolutely tickled by the ambiance, complimented by the sight of the grand piano, the upright bass, and the red roses on stage.
Love, Linda is advertised as a "one-woman musical about Linda Porter and her life with husband Cole Porter." Written and performed by critically acclaimed jazz vocalist Stevie Holland and her husband, Gary William Friedman, the show is actually more of a concert speckled with brief, chronological information about Cole Porter's career, delivered by Linda Porter (played by Holland). Cole Porter and his wife had a 35-year marriage, which was complicated by Porter's homosexuality. Despite the obvious problems that this would present, he and Linda shared a long, seemingly happy companionship filled with glamorous parties, international travel, and worldwide success. Holland's incredible vocal delivery and Friedman's musical arrangements bring Cole Porter's music to life in a very exciting way. A heart-wrenching rendition of "In the Still of the Night" follows Linda's realization that her husband is gay. "Night and Day" takes on new meaning after a description of the juxtaposition between Linda's public and private life with Porter. The music is absolutely delightful and Holland delivers the music flawlessly.
However, the potential depth that this extraordinary story possesses is slightly shortchanged. There are incredible demands put on Holland, who attempts to spit out the story in between each song (there are 19 songs in total). It is clear that her heart and soul are in the music, but the story that serves as the throughline seems rushed. Perhaps it has to do with the band that is constantly vamping underneath her southern drawl, but the intimate script is delivered entirely over the heads of the audience members and doesn't quite do justice to the deep love and respect that Linda had for her husband. There was one moment of intimacy that stuck with me, when Linda describes a miscarriage and her realization that she is too frail to have children. In this small moment, we see Linda's pain and her private suffering, which we don't see after she realizes her husband is gay. So often throughout the piece she picks her head up and dusts herself off before she's even had time to experience pain, but the description of the miscarriage provided a window into her quiet misery.
The story is in the music. Holland and Friedman chose the pieces very carefully with Linda's story in mind, and the music is what makes this show successful. If you're looking for a dramatic, heart-wrenching portrait of a tortured woman, this is not the show for you. But if you're looking for an old-fashioned evening and a beautiful performance of some Cole Porter gems (and you're willing to splurge on the martinis) then enjoy. Holland's voice is something special, and Porter's music is something to be heard.