Director and Star of Cole Porter 125 Discusses Her Inspiration
If I put the question, “How many people know who Cole Porter is?” out there, I would most likely get a nod from most of my generation and older. Some younger people, but they would be mostly theatre buffs, I think. If I asked, “How many have heard of Hamilton, the musical?” I would bet most of those of a younger generation would raise their hand. The impact that a show like Hamilton has is most likely similar to the impact Cole Porter musicals had on his generation. And I would venture to guess Cole Porter’s genius has influenced Lin Manuel-Miranda and many composers and lyricists of his generation. How could he not?
I have spent close to two decades singing the praises, quite literally, of composers and lyricists whose body of work often falls under the category of “The Great American Songbook.” I firmly believe this American art form has shaped and influenced songwriters for generations and its lasting presence in theatres, concert halls, jazz clubs, and cabaret rooms is a testimony to the greatness of many of the songs written in that golden era.
Cole Porter is among the rarest of those men and women. He wrote over 800 songs and he is in an elite group: those who wrote both music and lyrics. This fact might make for an interesting history lesson, if we were not hearing his songs sung and played still today on a regular basis. It speaks to the universality of many of the topics his songs cover. One might think his lyrics are what set him apart: clever, sophisticated and brimming with wit. While some lyrics are specific to another era: “You’re a Bendel bonnet” (does anyone still wear a hat?), many convey sentiments that we can still relate to just a fervently as people did 75 years ago: “Ev’ry time we say goodbye, I die a little.” But it’s not just his lyrics. Couple them with melodies that are distinctly Porter’s – lush harmonics, complicated rhythms and surprising melodic lines – and it’s clear why his songs have remained a significant part of our music culture. I make the mere mention of a Cole Porter tune and people still enthusiastically respond.
So, in the 125th year of his birth, it seems fitting to pay tribute to his genius, and we are thrilled to do so at the historic Auditorium Theatre! And how perfect to celebrate at the only theatre in Chicago that knows what it’s like to have a 125th birthday! Of course, a two hour concert could never capture the breadth of his genius, so our cast of five wonderful vocalists have each chosen Porter tunes that resonate with us. The songs you will hear capture the many sides of what is known as a “Porter Tune.” I suspect that many years from now, his songs will still be played and sung by musicians, and when someone asks them why they chose a Porter tune, they may respond: “It was just one of those things.”