Monday, March 24, 2014

SHOWTUNES showcases the music with Cole Porter’s ‘High Society’

Matt Giles, Danielle Barnum, Jared Michael Brown in "High Society" (photo Chris Bennion)

SHOWTUNES is coming! Yup, their next production is at Benaroya Hall, March 29 at 8:00pm and March 30 at 2:00pm. You only have two chances to participate in the fun. They are the folks that choose older musicals no one is likely to fully stage any time soon, and they put on a concert version. They love to choose musicals with great music and High Society is definitely one that fits that bill.

David Hunter Koch directs and Mark Rabe music directs with a young, energetic cast including Danielle Barnum (Tracy Lord), Jared Michael Brown (Dexter Haven), Matt Giles (Mike Connor), John X. Deveney (Uncle Willy), Katherine Strohmaier (Liz Imbrie), Matthew Posner (George Kittredge), Analiese Guettinger (Dinah Lord), Valerie Piacenti (Margaret Lord), and Paul Klein (Seth Lord) with Mallory King, Marissa Ryder and Mike Spee rounding out the Ensemble.

High Society is based on the play The Philadelphia Story by Philip Barry. There was a 1956 MGM movie musical made starring Grace Kelly, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. A stage musical version of High Society opened on Broadway in 1998 with a book by Arthur Kopit. Some of Cole Porter songs you might know are: Just One of Those Things, Let’s Misbehave, and It’s All Right With Me.

It’s the 1930s and Long Island socialite Tracy Lord is planning a summer wedding to new beau George when her ex-husband Dexter turns up and disrupts the proceedings.  Similar to society/celebrity weddings today, a nosey magazine reporter and photographer are trying to get an exclusive scoop. 

I think we all know what “high society” meant in the ‘30s, with the focus being on the East Coast and the rich who party. Does is mean the same thing today? It seems like today, the focus has shifted toward celebrities, only, though a few rich young people turn into celebrities (think Paris and Nicki Hilton). Usually we mean movie and television stars, and sometimes sports stars.

Wikipedia tells us that “Cole Albert Porter (June 9, 1891 – October 15, 1964) was an American composer and songwriter. Born to a wealthy family in Indiana, he defied the wishes of his domineering grandfather and took up music as a profession. Classically trained, he was drawn towards musical theatre. After a slow start, he began to achieve success in the 1920s, and by the 1930s he was one of the major songwriters for the Broadway musical stage.” In the 1930s, then, he would have been part of “high society” and his musical would reflect some insider knowledge.

After a very bad horseback riding accident, he wasn’t able to continue his string of hits, until finally giving us Kiss Me Kate in 1948. In fact, Kiss Me Kate won the very first Tony Award for a musical!

Cole’s mother, Kate Cole, had been raised as a wealthy child of the richest man in Indiana, with the best of everything, and her father expected her to marry wealth. Instead, she married a druggist, Sam Porter! Luckily, Kate’s father still thought Kate deserved the best and supported her and her family as it expanded to include Cole.

Cole went to Yale, where he even wrote some “fight” songs for their sport teams that are still used today. He also wrote full scale musical productions for the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity and the Yale Dramatic Association.

Defying his grandfather, after Cole enrolled at Harvard Law, he switched to an arts and music focus. His mother always fully supported his music career, and often covered for him to distract his grandfather from his activities. Eventually he abandoned Harvard and moved to New York City to continue writing musicals.

After college, Porter was well known as a gay man and, similarly to many others of that time (Moms Mabley made her lesbianism part of her comedy act without much controversy), that aspect didn’t appear to derail his successes. He was a wealthy young man who attended all the highest society parties.

In 1917, he moved to Paris and while continuing his social exuberance, he was able to claim “war hero” status on this side of the water, making up stories of working with the French Foreign Legion. The parties could be said to be pre-cursors to those of rock-and-roll bands: sex (of many varieties), drugs, and music.

By 1919, he began a long association with divorced American, Linda Thomas. They became great friends and a useful partnership when he married her as a kind of business arrangement. They remained married until her death in 1954. The marriage helped protect his reputation when cultural shifts made his gay lifestyle less palatable to the public.

Other Cole Porter musicals include Anything Goes, Can-Can and Silk Stockings. Songs we know, even if we have never seen his musicals, include popular singles Night and Day, I Get a Kick Out of You, I've Got You Under My Skin, My Heart Belongs to Daddy, You're the Top and You'd Be So Easy to Love.

For tickets or more information, go to www.showtunestheatre.org/ or here or call (206) 215-4747.