Cole Porter’s life was, if you’ll excuse the gross understatement, interesting. It feels a little unfair to try to cram it into a one-hour show, especially taking breaks to include some of his greatest hits.
That Michael Griffiths and co-writer Anna Goldsworthy attempt this feat is in itself remarkable, even if the end result is less so. Griffiths is an engaging presence, narrating as Porter, delightfully introducing his legs (Geraldine and Josephine, respectively) and insisting that the audience return their cordial greetings. His singing is effective, although his piano playing is a little under prepared.
As a whole, however, Cole proves to be neither fish nor fowl, lacking narrative thrust beyond the most basic chronological biography. There is some detail that was new to me as an audience member with little more than a passing familiarity with Porter’s life, but more ardent fans may be left hungry for something a little meatier.
There is also a strange reticence to name works. Porter’s first, unsuccessful musical (See America First, for those playing along at home) is mentioned, but not referred to beyond its status as both a failure and Porter’s Broadway debut. It is this lack of specificity that leaves the audience unfulfilled, to the detriment of Griffiths’ genuinely charming performance.
If you’re looking for a collection of Porter’s hits, and Irving Berlin’s uncharacteristically filthy verse of “Let’s Do It”, sung well in an entertaining setting, this will more than fit the bill. However, it is not a deep investigation of the Porter canon, perhaps aptly for Porter, a master of surface gloss.