For years, Petaluma’s Cinnabar Theater has closed out the year with a musical cabaret show. Past years’ productions have celebrated the work of musical artists from Edith Piaf to Mahalia Jackson to Frank Sinatra. This year, the work of classic American tunesmith Cole Porter takes center stage via Love, Linda, a look at Porter through the eyes of his wife, Ms. Linda Lee.
Veteran cabaret performer Maureen McVerry plays Mrs. Cole Porter and yes, there was a Mrs. Cole Porter. More than a marriage of convenience, the Porters had a genuine affection for each other, despite Porter leading an active homosexual life. Notwithstanding the challenges that presented to the relationship, they remained married until Lee’s death in 1954.
The show is set in the Porter’s elegant Parisian apartment where Linda reminisces about her life before Porter, how they met, their life together in Paris, their adventures in Hollywood, and their settling in an apartment at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York. Interspersed between the memories are, of course, the songs. The tale of their time in Paris is matched with “I Love Paris”, their time in Hollywood with “Night and Day” (also the title of the highly fictionalized film biography where the diminutive Porter was portrayed by the 6’4” Cary Grant). Her complex relationship with Porter is represented by “My Heart Belongs to Daddy” and “Wunderbar”.
Ms. McVerry’s vocals are accompanied by a terrific on-stage three-piece combo of piano (played by Chris Alexander for the opening performance, musical director Cesar Cancino handles it for the rest of the run), bass by Steven Hoffman, and drums by John Shebalin. McVerry does not possess a particularly rich voice, which led the musical accompaniment to regularly overwhelm her vocals. We hear Porter’s beautiful compositions, but his often amusing, often passionate lyrics are frequently lost. Cinnabar should really consider miking their musicals.
Director Clark Sterling keeps things moving at a brisk pace and brings the show in at 85 minutes, including an intermission. Scenic designer Wayne Hovey brings an expansive apartment feel to the Cinnabar space, though I wish the projections used throughout the show had been worked more into the set rather than displayed over it.
Love, Linda is an affectionate look back at one of America’s greatest musical talents. My affection for it would be amplified if the vocals were.
‘Love, Linda’ runs through January 13th at Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma. Friday and Saturday evening performances are at 8pm; the Sunday matinee is at 2pm. There’s a New Year’s Eve party and performance at 9pm on December 31st.
For more information, go to cinnabartheater.org.