What Is This Thing Called Love? — Love, Linda Explores the Marriage of Linda and Cole Porter

By Harry Haun
12 Dec 2013

Stevie Holland
Photo by Carol Rosegg

Friedman credited his wife for coming up with Porter songs that can be dramatically integrated into their play. "That's Stevie's genius. She somehow unearthed these gems that are in our consciousness and brought them to my attention, and then we developed a way of weaving them into the story. My job as an arranger and scorer was to do that as if it were a film, so I put on my film-scoring cap and proceeded to underscore the show so it breathed and created its own musical environment."

Maltby brought some tough love to the project. "The structure of the show was there," he said. "All I've done is to work for clarifying what the moment in the story is. What's going on at this moment in this sentence? Are you actually saying what you mean? Sometimes we turned sentences around, sometimes added a phrase to make it completely clear. The idea was there but not totally registering its depth."

"Richard and I talk about the melody of Linda's dialogue we came with," Holland said. "A lot of what we've done is get rid of old melodies and bring in new ones."

That's not as easy as it sounds, Maltby pointed out. "When you have done a show like this, you tend to set line readings after a while. Pretty much, you find the one that's the right one, and that became our enemy in going forward because they were set on a version that didn't go quite as deep. Time after time, we had to break the rhythm in order to get to the sentences. It wasn't that we had to find other sentences and we had to rewrite it. The stuff was already in the writing. We just really had to find it."

One Maltby touch: The pianist leading the three-piece combo accompanying Holland has been placed downstage with his back to the audience, suggesting Porter. "As soon as I thought of that, I thought immediately that it broke out of the mold of the cabaret show with the pianist sitting there. As soon as you turn it around, it's like a living room, and the person at the piano becomes a kind of living presence. Even the sheet music has been painted on pale blue paper so it's not very bright when the light hits it. We went that far to make sure it's not a big white presence over there."

Friedman, who composed Platinum, Taking My Turn and the Tony-nominated The Me Nobody Knows, is currently working on another musical biography with Holland, who has taken over the book and lyrics from Friedman's longtime partner, Will Holt.

It's called Dream Mountain, and that would be Mount Rushmore. The show focuses on the man who spent the last 14 years of his life sculpting it, Qutzon Borglum. "He was obsessed with it, and, ultimately, it did him in," said Friedman. "He died before it was finished, and his son took over. It's a very heroic, Americana kind of story."

"Also," postscripted his wife and collaborator, "it tells the story of native Americans and their reaction and feeling toward their sacred mountain being destroyed."

Maltby, in his lyricist hat, has his own musical Americana bio to get back to — Take Flight, about the heroic figures of early aviation (The Brothers Wright, Earhart, Lindbergh, et al). It recently touched down at Montclair State University and went over so well that he and his longtime composing partner, David Shire, and their book writer, John Weidman, have decided to resume tinkering with it for Broadway.

Theatregoers might hear a few selections from it Dec. 17 when 54 Below presents Maltby & Shire: What Could Better Be in its ongoing salute to great American songwriters.