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
"There was a lot of speculation as to what Linda Porter was. This was not a marriage of convenience. She wasn't a cover, a beard for a gay man. This was a real love story with a man who was also gay. They had a marriage, and the trouble is there is no word for it. It wasn't a this or a that. They weren't homosexual or straight or something like that — and it is only us, who are pathetically limited in our vocabulary, that we feel we have to find some word to put on it. Human beings are much more complicated, much more interesting, and love is much more undefinable than our need to call it something. That's why I'm incredibly honored about the show."

Quick! Somebody cue Porter's haunting "What Is This Thing Called Love?"

That song comes up early, of course. Throughout the show, biographical bits are sprinkled between and, frequently, into numbers, giving them a new meaning in the context of the story being told. "My Heart Belongs to Daddy" is introduced late into the proceedings when the Porters appear bound for the divorce court, but, in the middle of it, Porter suffers a horse accident that left him crippled the rest of his life; his wife rushes to his side, never again to leave. She starts the song promiscuous, giddy with new freedom, making "a play for the caddy," and ends up Mother Teresa.

Quite a few Porter evergreens are on display, but there is also quite a few non-mainstream numbers. "'Ours' was new to me," confessed Friedman. "It's become one of our all-time favorites," seconded Holland. "And is that ever an ear worm!" added Maltby. "Oh, boy, I spent a week trying to get rid of that song. Even now, I can't.

"And do you not love the fact that you sit down at a show about Cole Porter, and the first thing you hear is this melody you've never heard before? 'What is that?'"

That is "When a Woman's in Love," used instrumentally at the start of the show and sung at the end. "It was never in a show," noted Holland. "It was a trunk poem that he later set it to music. I like to think in my heart that he really wrote it for her."

People have come up to Friedman after the show, wagging their finger at him and accusing him of writing that song. "Do you know what it took to admit I didn't?"