Interview with Deborah Robin on LOVE, LINDA: THE LIFE OF MRS. COLE PORTER

P3 Theatre presents LOVE, LINDA: THE LIFE OF MRS. COLE PORTER, a powerful one-woman musical about the dazzling Southern socialite Linda Lee Thomas and her improbable marriage to songwriter Cole Porter who created such classics as “So in Love,” “Night and Day,” “In the Still of the Night,” and “Love for Sale.”

Though Porter was gay, their companionship and love lasted through 35 years of marriage and a spectacular, glamour-filled life. With innovative arrangements, the timeless music and lyrics of Cole Porter weave through the compelling narrative of Love, Linda examining the darker sides of their life, while also celebrating the deep love that blossomed through their unconventional relationship.  “It’s an amazing love story,” said P3 Theatre Company Executive Artistic Director Jon Peterson. “Many people are surprised to learn that Cole Porter had a wife. The show has all the behind-the-scenes secrets as well as the luscious music of Porter.”

LOVE, LINDA: THE LIFE OF MRS. COLE PORTER had its Off-Broadway premiere in 2013 featuring music and lyrics by Cole Porter, with Book by Stevie Holland and Gary Wiliam Friedman. The show will have its Southwestern Regional Premiere October 16-24 at the 2nd Story Theatre in Hermosa Beach before moving October 30-31 to the Renaissance Performing Arts Center in Long Beach. Through song and story, Deborah Robin promises a tour-de-force performance as Mrs. Cole Porter. And as a fan of Cole Porter’s music but not knowing anything about his wife or their life together, I wanted to find out a bit more about the production, especially what led Deborah Robin to take on the role.

(Shari): Hi Deborah. Thank you for taking to time to speak with me about LOVE, LINDA: THE LIFE OF MRS. COLE PORTER.

 (Deborah): Hi Shari, it’s my pleasure to chat with you! I am so delighted that you have an interest in our show

(Shari): First of all, congratulations on your acclaimed pre-pandemic turn as Doris Day in P3 Theatre’s Day After Day: The Life and Music of Doris Day. What else would you like readers to know about your theatre background?

(Deborah): Oh thank you so much, Shari; Day After Day was a wonderful experience! I adore everything about Doris, and always will. It was a privilege to portray her, and to work with the P3 Theater Company. As for my theatre background, I have been involved in theatre for most of my life (including post-graduate studies at The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art), with the exception of the years I stepped away to be home with my babies. The first time I stepped back into a theatre to audition again, it felt like coming home, like Cinderella’s magical slipper fitting her foot at last. I knew that I belonged here. Many of you can relate, I am sure! Speaking of magic, I have found that I gravitate to shows with elements of magic within them. Besides Doris, one of my favorite past roles to play was Mary Poppins. If enchantment is involved, I’m your girl!

(Shari): I take it you are a big fan of Cole Porter’s music. Do you have a favorite number or two you will be performing in the show?

(Deborah): Ah, that is a tough question! All of Cole’s music is timeless, memorable, marvelous! At this point, I think one of my favorites in this show might be “In the Still of the Night.” Some singers have interpreted this song dramatically, even fun and jazzy, but when it is done tenderly, with feeling, wow, does it touch the heart. Doris Day did an incredible recording of this song that I love, of course!

(Shari):  Since many aspects of Porter's life simply could not be discussed in great detail during the 1940s and 1950s, such as his 35-year marriage to Southern socialite Linda Lee Thomas, what was it about her life and unconventional marriage that pulled you into wanting to portray her onstage?

(Deborah): Yes, absolutely, the reality of their marriage was not up for discussion at that time! There was a rather fictionalized account of their marriage in the movie Night and Day starring Cary Grant as Cole Porter. Apparently, after seeing the film, Cole remarked, with humor, “None of it’s true.”  But I knew almost nothing about Linda’s life before Jon Peterson of the P3 Theatre Company reached out to me during quarantine, asking if I’d heard of Love, Linda and if I might be interested in taking a look at it for the future? Of course, I said “yes” immediately because I relish Porter’s music, especially from Anything Goes and Kiss Me, Kate.

When I began researching Linda, I was fascinated. She was certainly a very sophisticated, sparkling socialite, but very private. I believe she truly loved him since they were together for nearly half of her life. Did you know she kept every Cole Porter review, ticket stub, and program and that her scrapbooks reside at Yale now?

(Shari): No, I had no idea!

(Deborah): And she saved his life as well, insisting that doctors not amputate his legs when he suffered an accident since she knew it would crush his spirit. I believe Cole loved her, too! After she passed away, he wept inconsolably at her funeral, and said he’d had two great women in his life: his mother and Linda, who kept him going. He commissioned a rose for her as well, the Linda Porter rose.

(Shari): What else do you hope audiences will learn about her?

(Deborah): I hope audiences will come away with an understanding of and connection to this spirited lady. Linda was much more than Cole Porter’s wife, or benefactor, or muse. She was a bright and vivacious woman with a passion for culture, music, and Cole!

(Shari): No doubt their glamour-filled lifestyle was essential for both of them. But how do you think they were able to stay married for 35 years?

(Deborah):  Yes, they were the epitome of glamour! The palatial houses, lavish decor, the world traveling. Linda’s jewelry collection is just to-die-for! Many of her pieces were commissioned by Cartier, and are so gorgeous! One of her most iconic pieces was an aquamarine and ruby Belt Buckle Necklace made by Paul Flato in 1935, which is considered an American work of art.

I think there are many reasons Cole and Linda were able to stay married, which Linda discusses in the show. They admired and respected one another, in addition to love. She saw him for the man that he was, and gave him space and freedom in his intimate life. In a practical sense, for Cole, his marriage to Linda gave him access to a sophisticated social life; for Linda, Cole granted her access to the world of the arts. Of course, they did have problems in their marriage, which Love, Linda explores as well

(Shari): What do you think will surprise audiences about their behind-the-scenes life, either in Paris or New York?

(Deborah): I hope audiences will be pleasantly surprised, even touched, at the genuine love and affection that existed between these two! Marriage can be challenging enough under the best circumstances; Cole and Linda (with eyes wide open) managed to have a beautiful life together, as unconventional and puzzling as it may seem.

(Shari): For this production, are you able to rehearse in person with director Tony Santamauro and/or musical director Bill Wolfe or just online for now?  And have you ever worked with either of them before?

(Deborah): Yes, I have been able to work with both of these fabulous people in person, and we are following all safety protocols. Tony was my director for Day After Day, and I jumped at the opportunity to work with him again. He just radiates a zeal for theatre, he lives and breathes it, and is a joy to work with. This is my first time working with Bill, and he is delightful (and so talented)!

(Shari): What message do you hope audiences take away with them after seeing the show?

(Deborah): Besides all of the classic Cole Porter tunes that will be playing on repeat in their heads for days? Most of us know Cole Porter as a clever and witty composer who was unable to live openly as a gay man. He was more than clever and closeted; he was staggeringly brilliant, and much deeper and more complex than people realize. He was not able to be himself, openly, in the world, but he had someone in his corner who cared. Some of his more thoughtful songs really portray this side of him, touching emotions in us that cannot be conveyed except through music. I hope audiences will come away with a bit more insight into the captivating man that he was, and of the woman who adored him

(Shari): Is there anything else you would like to add?

(Deborah): Yes! The number one reason to come to this show is the music! It is delightful and delicious, and the particular arrangements in Love, Linda are de-lovely! There are also some lesser-known treasures you may never have heard before. Cole Porter’s music is universally loved for a reason, and I hope you will love it, too. Thank you so much, Shari, for your interest in our show, and for this interview! I really appreciate it.

P3 Theatre Company presents the Southwestern Regional Debut of LOVE, LINDA: THE LIFE OF MRS. COLE PORTER, a musical one-woman show starring Deborah Rubin about the improbable love of the gay songwriter and his socialite wife. With Music and lyrics by Cole Porter, Book by Stevie Holland and Gary Wiliam Friedman, the production is Directed by Tony Santamauro with Musical Direction by Bill Wolfe.

Performances take place:
October 16-24 at the 2nd Story Theatre in Hermosa Beach, with Adult General Admission: $32.00 or Senior/Student/Military General Admission $28.00, available at https://www.onthestage.tickets/show/p3-theatre-company/love-linda-the-life-of-mrs-cole-porter-65321

October 30-31 at the Renaissance Performing Arts Center in Long Beach with General Admission Adult: $35.00 or Senior/Student/Military: $32.00 available at https://www.onthestage.tickets/show/p3-theatre-company/love-linda-the-life-of-mrs-cole-porter-89246 

Run time is 75 minutes with no intermission, and both venues have wheelchair accessible parking and seating available. All ticket sales are final. Please note: For all in-person performances, you will be required to wear a mask indoors in compliance with the current LA County mandate. In addition to wearing a mask, you will need to present proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or a negative COVID-19 test (within 72 hours) along with a photo ID.

Headshot photo of Deborah Robin by Susan Spann

Stock Photos of Cole Porter and his wife Linda Lee Thomas

Photo of Deborah Robin as Doris Day in "Day After Day: The Life and Music of Doris Day"
by Caught in the Moment Photography


It's National See-A-Show Day!: SIX Questions with jackbenny

jackbenny, the dynamic musical duo comprised of twin brothers Jack and Benny Lipson, is exactly what the music industry and the world need right now. They are young, grounded in tradition, bounding towards what's next in the world of sound, and always refreshing. On the eve of their upcoming show National See-A-Show Day!, debuting at the Luckman Intimate Theatre for one-night only this weekend, I had to buzz with these boys about music, their current work, and – of course – queerness in artistic expression. Here we go!

Roger Q. Mason (RQM): How did jackbenny begin?

Jack and Benny (JB): Growing up here in LA we started jamming together in our tweens singing songs by artists and composers we admire. Benny moved away to Miami for undergrad and as soon as he returned the two of us began playing bass and keyboard, respectively, in a handful of local bands. But soon we grew antsy to write and perform original material with more pointed lyrics and unbound to prescribed musical formulae. We retreated to Sedona, Arizona for a week in December 2016, and thus spawned jackbenny and our first batch of songs.

RQM: Let's talk about style. You two beautifully meld musical theatre, jazz, pop, rock and other influences to create a very unique live concert aesthetic. What was the inspiration behind your sound?

JB: We love all the musical styles you listed and more, and of course we invite them into jackbenny's sound! We decided to link our material not necessarily through a certain soundscape - although we do stamp our songs with surprising harmonic diversions and metrical twists - but rather through their savvy and sometimes provocative lyrics addressing contemporary social phenomena. In musical theater the same composer can churn out disparate scores from show to show as they craft in service to the characters and drama; we believe each of our lyrics earns that specificity…the music in a way writes itself!

RQM: Tell me EVERYTHING about It's National See-a-Show Day!!

Jack: Well we can't tell you everything, then you'd know exactly what to expect! It's National See-a-Show Day! is a culmination of all we've culled from our residency last year at the Lyric Hyperion Theatre, where we presented 10 unique 2-act shows of our material sprinkled with a range of guest performers coloring our material. At the Luckman, we'll maintain that 2-act form - this time with five guest artists contributing - but we're beefing the production value: our set designer roommate built a 60s/70s TV special-esque set for us to play on, we've expanded drummer-percussionist Theo Seidmon's arsenal of toys, and throughout the evening we've planned 92 light cues. Simply interacting together as twins on stage seems to invite uproarious laughter, but we want you to leave, as one audience member articulated, “simultaneously smarter and optimistic about the world.”

RQM: Okay, breaking with form – I'm going to ask 6 questions – not five. Jack, what's it like working with Benny?

Jack: Honestly I can't fathom working solo - who can fulfill both the artistic and especially the auxiliary managerial work singlehandedly?! In writing and executing our material, we expect utmost excellence of one another, and often this manifests in frank, brusque criticism...that shortly evolves into laughter. On the business end, Benny and I've started to carve our own territories: Benny oversees and edits video content for jackbenny's website, YouTube, and Facebook pages while I manage our Instagram and mailing list, as well as write all prose surrounding the project.

RQM: Benny, what's it like working with Jack?

Benny: Collaborating with a sibling is both comfortable and challenging; we never hold back how one another is thinking or feeling, good or bad. Since we know one another's capabilities, we push to those limits. I often keep Jack focused on the tasks at hand and monitor his musical ideas from reaching a level of absolute obscurity. Our personalities as composers and businessmen complement nicely.

RQM: Can you tell us anything about your new work Brainstorm?

JB: Brainstorm is a musical theater song cycle of our songs, many of which we'll perform on Saturday. The one-act zooms in on three twentysomethings navigating today's ever-confounding socio-political scene. In continuous sequences of song and movement, they share their newfangled ideas on queer identity, climate change, consensual conduct, bee extinction, healthcare, bureaucracy, and more. The millennials by the piece's close not only refute putative misconceptions of their caricatured generation, but come to empathize with one another on a mutual journey towards a more just and compassionate world. Actually major news regarding Brainstorm began brewing - pun intended - just last week, though we can't formally share just yet...but our audience at the Luckman will be first to hear!

RQM: And finally, let's talk about queerness music. What makes music or a musician or a style of music queer? And why should everyone care?

JB: To start, a couple of our lyrics directly explore queer identity, of course the aptly named “Queer” and its companion number, “Asking.” Other lyrics refer to queer relationships when much music offers either definitively straight characters or nebulously dodges sexual identity as not to expose the creators. But much of the content of our songs, as well as our shows' theatrical aesthetic, stems inevitably from conversations and interactions through our deep involvement in the LGBTQ cultures of LA and New York. Whereas other artists fear this “queer” label will pigeonhole their art towards a niche audience, conversely “queer” to us embraces a spectrum of individuals as variegated as the rainbow. We want those individuals to find themselves within the characters of our music, and hopefully glean from them truths they've - and even we've - yet to discover.

For more information about their show, go to LuckmanArts.org or call (323) 343-6600.

All photos © by Cliff Lipson