Anything Goes – and the genius of Cole Porter

This week we are in the middle of putting up “Anything Goes” for our Friday and Saturday performances.  This show may be one of the silliest shows I have ever done.  It is a nonstop sequence of funny bits and situations that are tied together with a wonderful set of songs by Cole Porter.  All I can say is that we are having a great time.

So what is it that makes this work such an enduring piece of our musical theater?  If there was one thing that I could point to it is the music (and words) of Cole Porter.  When I think of how to describe Porter’s music words like intelligent, witty and urbane come to my mind right away.  He wrote the music and lyrics for “Anything Goes” and it would be hard to say which is better, because they are both brilliant!  If you were to just listen to Porter’s music and enjoy it on it’s own merits you would find it to be full of wonderful surprises.  Both the music and the text seem to be quite fresh and if you let them they will take you on a wonderful little musical adventure.

I first grew to love these songs by Cole Porter when I was in graduate school at The Peabody Conservatory when a friend recommended the Ella Fitzgerald recording of the “Cole Porter Songbook.”  Ella recorded several of these “songbook” albums over the years but for me there is something special about the Porter recordings.  I have this feeling that she knew that there was something different and unique about this music and her performances seem to capture every nuance effortlessly!  I often listen to these and still have occasional “wow” moments.

Let me share a couple of my favorite “ah ha” moments with you…

The first two both involve scales – on of the most basic building blocks of music. Do re mi fa sol la si do!  Easy right? Maybe to sing but how do you write a song that uses scales so that it is musically pleasing?  That one is tougher to do!  In “I Get A Kick Out Of You,” Porter uses an ascending/descending scale pattern over and over to carve out the melody and yet he is so skilled at his craft that few people would know that unless you were paying close attention or maybe following along with a score.  At the end of the song when he sets the text “Flying so high with some guy in the sky, is my idea of nothing to do…”  He uses this pattern but this time takes the scale higher than in previous phrases so that “…sky, is…” takes us to a new place right before he sets us down.  Brilliant!

The next example is the duet sung by Hope and Billy “All Through The Night.”   This entire song is built around a series of descending chromatic scales.  The harmony seems to float effortlessly around this “melody” giving the song a haunting, dreamy quality.  When Hope enters singing “the day is my enemy the night is my friend,” he uses another set of simple musical building blocks (octaves and fifths) that allow the harmony to gently shift between Major and minor chords.  This creates an uncertainty for the listener about where the music is going which is in fact is the musical equivalent of what Hope is feeling at that moment in the scene.  Again… Brilliant!

Here are a couple of others…

Listen closely to the chorus men in “Blow Gabriel, Blow” and you may hear them sing “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” while the ladies sing “I was low…”  Or check out all of the cultural references in “You’re The Top” like: “…you’re the nimble tread on the feet of Fred Astaire, you’re an O’Neil drama, you’re Whistler’s Mama, you’re Camembert…”   These are just a few of the many examples…

So here is my final word.  If you don’t know this music, you should.  It is smart, sexy, funny and even more important, it is some of the most beautiful music you will ever hear.  It doesn’t matter how old or young you are, there is something for you here.  Listen and enjoy the game that Porter sets out for you.  And at the same time watch a VERY funny show with a bunch of crazy antics on board a cruise ship!  You won’t be sorry, because in this show it really is, wait for it… Anything Goes!