I had to fly to Melbourne for an all day training course on the Wednesday which meant an evening arrival the day before. I checked into the hotel, had a quick dinner with a work colleague at a nice steakhouse then it was on the tram and into the city for a show. I mean, ‘when in Rome go to the theatre’ as the old saying doesn’t go. Tuesday was the opening of Melbourne’s Fringe festival so it couldn’t have timed out better.
The show in question was the preview of a cabaret celebrating the life and music of Cole Porter featuring a plethora of Western Australian talent. The venue was the very funky Butterfly Club off Little Collins Street. The stage was possibly smaller than my lounge room but sufficient enough to fit a piano played with fierce concentration by Mia Brine and the musical theatre talents of Mitch Roberts as Edward, Brianna Williams as Linda Porter and Annalisa Bell as Porter’s ‘voice’, Ethel Merman.
Yes, the great conceit for a show about Cole Porter is that Cole Porter doesn’t appear at all... if you discount the framed photo of him on the piano. But, oh, his songs certainly do and what a roster of numbers we have here - from ‘Let's Do It, Let's Fall in Love’ to ‘Night and Day’ and ‘It's De-Lovely’ to numbers from the musicals Anything Goes and Kiss Me, Kate among others. They were beautifully sung by all three performers with songs assigned to each character dependent on the emotional beats of the story.
This is what really elevated the show – the story wasn’t just filler to get us to the next song but a nice arc on its own that carefully illuminated Porter’s life and achievements while precluding the need for his involvement. It also gave a balanced portrayal - Porter ‘wrote the songs, wrote the music, and wrote his own press releases’ - especially when it came to criticism of the whitewashed movie of his life.
Roberts’ Edward is our narrator as he goes from the young songwriter eager to meet Porter to his lover and ultimately carer in the last years of the legendary composer/songwriter’s life. The central conflict then is with William’s Linda Porter, Cole’s wife who was his great love and prime inspiration. Bell adds the zing factor as the larger than life Merman with the big personality and even bigger voice. This all works well and the acting is good, especially when Linda and Edward confront each other over the fallout of Cole’s accident that eventually saw him lose a leg.