Cole Porter’s other half in Petaluma

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PLANNING TO GO?

What: ‘Love, Linda,’ starring Maureen McVerry

When: Dec. 14-Jan. 15, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays.

Where: Cinnabar Theater, 3333 N. Petaluma Blvd.

Admission: $25-$75

Information: 763-8920, Cinnabartheater.org

“Cole and Linda Porter had an amazing life,” says Maureen McVerry, pulling over a chair and taking a seat in Cinnabar Theater’s studio rehearsal room. Taking a break from an afternoon rehearsal of “Love, Linda: The Life of Mrs. Cole Porter,” McVerry scoots her chair over so it’s right next to the one now occupied by the show’s director, Clark Sterling. “Their marriage, the Porter’s marriage, was an unbelievable partnership,” McVerry says. “I don’t think we’d know anything about Cole Porter today, at all, if it weren’t for Linda.”

Opening this weekend, the one-actor show, with music, was written by Stevie Holland and Gary William Friedman. It was originally staged in New York City, and is receiving its West Coast premiere courtesy of Cinnabar Theater. Interspersed with a variety of Cole Porter songs — from classics to several lesser-known pieces, the show is told from the perspective of Linda Porter. Though it’s not Linda’s ghost that McVerry is playing, exactly, the character does tell her life’s story from the point-of-view of someone who not only remembers the details, but can put them into a long-range cultural context.

In other words, this Linda knows her husband’s legacy did not die with him. Or with her.

“Elly and Diane thought it would be a great holiday show, and that it would be a nice thing to have the west coast debut of the show,” says Sterling, recalling how Cinnabar’s Artistic Director Elly Lichenstein, and its Executive Director Diane Dragone, first approached him to direct the show. “When I came on board, I was intrigued by the idea of a show with Cole Porter tunes. But especially intrigued by it being a show with songs that have not been done over and over. It’s an interesting new Cole Porter experience, because this one is told from his wife’s perspective.”

According to Sterling, his first decision as director was to cast McVerry as Linda Porter.

“We worked together 24 years ago, playing opposite each other in San Francisco, in the Gershwin musical ‘Oh Kay!’” he recalls. “I just knew that the show needed a special singing actress, rather than just a singer who could maybe act a little. I’ve always thought of Maureen as one of the Bay Area’s finest actresses, and I’m thrilled to be working with her again on this show, and in this role, which I think she was basically born to play.”

“And you were born to direct it,” she smiles back. “But you’re right. This is so my cup of tea, a show in which I get to act up a storm as well as sing some of the greatest songs of all time.”

McVerry, of San Francisco, is widely known for her long-running cabaret show, “Very McVerry,” which she’s been performing off and on for 20 years. She’s also an award-winning stage actor, having appeared in numerous plays and musical, winning six San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Awards over her 35 years as a performer.

“The one bad thing about being a singing actor,” she notes, “is that people tend to forget the acting part, and they only call you in for musicals. It drives me nuts. I haven’t done a straight play in a long time.”

She smiles, and notes the electronic devise recording the interview.

PLANNING TO GO?

What: ‘Love, Linda,’ starring Maureen McVerry

When: Dec. 14-Jan. 15, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays.

Where: Cinnabar Theater, 3333 N. Petaluma Blvd.

Admission: $25-$75

Information: 763-8920, Cinnabartheater.org

“That’s what we call plays with no singing, ‘straight plays,’” she says, leaning in toward the recorder, and adding, “In case someone reading this doesn’t know the inside lingo. Anyway, I don’t think anyone can sing well unless they can act. The essence of good singing is that you’re telling a story with music. Once you can tell a story and stay on pitch, then you get tossed on this little lump of musical theater people, and you never get asked to do anything that’s really just a meaty acting role. In this case, it’s both.”

As for “Love, Linda,” this is her first time doing a solo show not written by herself, and not a cabaret show.

“I love doing my cabaret show, and I love being the one who chooses every song,” McVerry says. “It’s something I think every singing performer should do, create their own show. Because it’s important to learn to defend your tastes. When you’re doing your own show, created by you, that’s the only time anyone cares what your tastes are.”

McVerry admits she only knew a little about the relationship between Cole and Linda before tackling the show at Cinnabar.

“Linda is the one who made him what he was by supporting him, I’ve learned that much,” she says. “Like many artistic people, I don’t think Cole had the tenacity and confidence to stick his neck out there. But Linda loved him so much, and believed in his talent so much, she kept making things happen for him. Everyone knows he was gay, and she knew, of course, and somehow they made it work. Which was good for Cole, definitely. She’s the one who invited Irving Berlin over to hear Cole’s songs, saying, ‘You have to listen to my husband. He’s amazing!’ Of course, Linda was amazing too.”

With another smile, McVerry adds, “And that’s what this show is all about.”

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