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Love, Linda
Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter
Book by Stevie Holland, with Gary William Friedman
Arrangements and Additional Music by Gary William Friedman
Directed by Ken Page
Max & Louie Productions
January 19. 2019

Debby Lennon
Photo by John Lamb
Max & Louie Productions

The latest show from Max & Louie Productions is essentially a showcase for its leading performer. Debby Lennon, who has memorably appeared in previous shows from the company, is cast as the wife of legendary songwriter Cole Porter in a slight but entertaining production that especially highlights Lennon’s always impressive vocal talents and stage presence.

This is really more of a narrated concert than a play, co-written by a jazz singer and the show’s original performer. This is a show that, basically, gives a talented singer a chance to shine, showcasing the classic hits of one of Broadway’s most legendary songwriters. Lennon portrays Linda Lee Thomas, who was married to Porter for 34 years. She tells the story of her life before she met Porter, including her marriage to her abusive first husband, but the bulk of the production focuses on her complicated relationship with her second husband, Porter. Their love and mutual dependence on one another–in different ways–is made clear, as is the truth that Linda married him in full knowledge that he was gay. In between songs, Lennon tells vivid stories of her life with Porter in Paris in the 1920s, and then in New York, and eventually, Hollywood, as she outlines Porter’s rise to fame, their celebrity connections, and Porter’s many relationships with men and her struggles with jealousy. It’s an interesting story, compellingly portrayed by Lennon, but it’s all essentially a framework for the songs, which are the show’s–and Lennon’s–strength. Many well-known and lesser-known Porter songs are featured, allowing Lennon to show off a different style of vocals than usual. Her past efforts for Max & Louie have tended to more operatic sounds, but here Lennon is able to display an impressive aptitude for old-school jazz and pop standards. She especially excels in the more upbeat songs, like “Miss Otis Regrets” and “I Love Paris”, as well as displaying an impressive range on numbers like “Wunderbar” and “So In Love”. It’s an impressive vocal performance, and acting-wise, Lennon does about as much with the material as I could imagine anyone could. She’s a strong presence on the stage.

Aside from Lennon, the other real “stars” of this show are the technical designers. This is a great looking show, from Dansi Dai’s simple but lavish set that stages the performance on a giant, well-appointed piano. The storytelling is also augmented greatly through the use of Michael Perkins’s excellent projections, that illustrate Linda’s story from the beginning–with photos of the real Linda–to the end. Costume designer Teresa Doggett has outfitted Lennon in some elegant, well-suited ensembles as well. There’s also excellent atmospheric lighting by Patrick Huber and sound by Phillip Evans. Lennon is also backed by an excellent band led by music director Greg Schweitzer.

The story that Lennon, as Linda, tells here is a potentially fascinating one, and there could be a more thorough treatment than this one. Still, as it is, Love, Linda is an entertaining show, especially when it comes to the production values and, especially, the music. It gives its talented star an excellent outlet for displaying her impressive vocal skills, highlights the repertoire of a Broadway legend, and provides a look at the complex, sometimes difficult, sometimes poignant life of the woman who married that legend. It’s great music well-sung, and with style.

 

Debby Lennon
Photo by Dunsi Dai
Max & Louie Productions

 

Max & Louie Productions is presenting Love, Linda at the Marcelle Theatre until January 27, 2019

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