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Musical theatre show depicts composer’s songs and life

Musical theatre show depicts composer’s songs and life

by Sarita RAO 3 min. 08.11.2022
An original script, Too Darn Hot! combines Cole Porter's personal life with his famous songs, in Pirate Productions’ latest stage show
Rehearsals for Too Darn Hot! a play about Cole Porter featuring 20 of his songs
Rehearsals for Too Darn Hot! a play about Cole Porter featuring 20 of his songs
Photo credit: Pirate Productions

You may not have heard of Cole Porter, but you will recognise his songs, many of which shot to fame on Broadway in the 1930s, and were later produced in classic movies. 

Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra both sang renditions of Porter's song, I get a kick out of you, and his songs have been covered by Buena Vista Social Club, Sinead O’Connor and Kirsty MacColl.

Even if you recognise the songs, you might not know much about Porter’s colourful private life. The bisexual son of a wealthy American family, he made Paris his home for many years, and travelled extensively through Europe.

Upbeat or racy songs and ballads

The musical and theatre production Too Darn Hot! depicts the life and music of Cole Porter and will be coming to Luxembourg at the end of the month.

"I think [Porter] was hugely talented and ahead of his time," said  writer and director Neil Johnson. "He didn’t just write soppy love songs, he wrote about love, betrayal and desire. Some of his songs were a bit racy, and banned in their time."

Johnson was particularly interested in Porter’s personal life, and took a year to write the script for Too Darn Hot!, which takes the audience through the composer’s life chronologically from when he left university into his 40s. The story is set around 20 of Porter’s songs, some upbeat, others ballads.

Sexual politics

Catriona Gilham plays Porter’s wife, Linda Lee Thomas. She was eight years his senior and divorced from an abusive husband. Gilham describes her as financially independent but a “kindred spirit” with Porter, although she was fully aware of her husband’s bisexuality. “She’s quite an upbeat character, a confident socialite.”

The show will play three nights and two afternoons 24-27 November at the Cultural Centre in Hollerich
The show will play three nights and two afternoons 24-27 November at the Cultural Centre in Hollerich
Photo: Pirate Productions

Johnson’s script delves into relationships and sex, and although there is no nudity, he says that the adult themes make this more appropriate for an audience aged 12 years or older. 

“There are comic moments, but it’s not a comedy,” he said. “I liked the idea of exploring marriage, gender politics, sexuality, and fidelity within a relationship. It’s not a Doris Day musical, it’s meaty stuff.”

Too Darn Hot! has a cast of 19 people, most of whom sing, dance and act. “There’s quite a few new cast members, many with choir-trained voices, who had to learn the acting and dancing aspects of the show, but they bring a fresh energy,” says Gilham. She has been practising her songs and dances for two hours daily, in addition to the three weekly four-hour long rehearsals the cast is undergoing to be ready for the opening night on 24 November.

The performance has a two-hour running time plus 20-minute interval, and staging and costumes have been kept simple, although Gilham has six period costume changes.

Cabaret-style experience 

Audiences will be treated to a cabaret experience, seated at tables of eight people, and can consume drinks from the bar during the performance. 

“It will be a little more interactive than normal theatre performances, there will be a bar section used as an acting area at the audience level, where the band is also located,” said Johnson, adding that the actors will be moving around the tables nearest the stage.

The six-piece band includes keyboards, drums, bass and saxophone, and musical director, Philip Dutton, has changed some of the arrangements so that whilst certain songs are performed in the style of the period they were written, others have a more jazz or swing tempo. Johnson has also played around with the vocals, and two men will sing some male/female duets, which changes the music and meaning of the lyrics, he explains.

Too Darn Hot! will be performed from 24 to 27 November at the Cultural Centre Hollerich, 34 rue Emile Lavandier. Tickets are available for evening performances from Thursday to Saturday and weekend matinees.

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