What do the lyrics of Broadway classics “Anything Goes” and “Kiss Me Kate” have in common with Yale football songs? All were written by Cole Porter 1913, one of the most prolific songwriters of the 20th century.
On Thursday, two cabaret performances will kick off a year’s worth of events celebrating 100 years since the iconic musician’s graduation from Yale College.
“We shouldn’t lose the opportunity here at Yale to celebrate one of the luminaries of the 20th century,” said Sarah Peterson, who works in the Jonathan Edwards College Master’s Office and is both performing at the cabaret and acting as producer for the Centennial Gala. “We’re making as much tumult as we can.”
Amber Edwards ’82, one of the self-described “instigators” of the yearlong celebration, said she hopes that the cabaret will serve to “throw the gates open wide for everyone to come up with their own Cole Porter project.”
The show will include individual renditions of Cole Porter classics, as well as performances by both the Whiffenpoofs of 2012 and a smaller group of recent Whiffenpoof alumni who will seek to recreate the sound and feel of the group when Cole Porter was a member, said former Whiffenpoof Ben Watsky ’13.
While the Centennial Gala will celebrate Porter’s life and work as a whole, it will focus particularly on commemorating Porter as a Yale undergraduate. Porter was “a big man on campus,” said Edwards, participating in everything from the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity and the Pundits to the Glee Club and Whiffenpoofs, both of which regularly perform his songs today.
Porter also wrote over 300 songs during his time as a student, said history professor Jay Gitlin ’71 MUS ’74 GRD ’02, including popular football fight songs “Bulldog” and “Bingo” that are still sung today.
“He gave us our anthems,” said Gitlin, noting that Porter was also voted “the most entertaining member of his class.”
Watsky noted that over the course of the year he spent touring with the Whiffenpoofs, Porter was always the first alumnus mentioned in their introduction.
“It’s been a hundred years, and he’s still the most famous one,” said Watsky, “I think that’s pretty remarkable.”
The next big event on the horizon is a concert reading of “Kiss Me Kate” scheduled to take place at the University Theatre on Jan. 19. Renowned British conductor David Charles Abell will be directing the orchestra in his own newly reconstructed rendition of one of Porter’s most famous musicals. According to Edwards, Abell has personally reworked the score from every available copy, including those in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, to bring the music back to Porter’s original intent.
The main roles in the show will be played by eminent Yale alumni in both the music and theater worlds, including famed soprano Sari Gruber ’93 and Broadway star Michael Cerveris ’83. The chorus and the minor roles will be filled with both undergraduates and School of Drama students, creating a unique “meeting of paths” between students and several generations of Yale alumni in the performing arts, said Alex Ratner ’14, the show’s student musical director.
Having many different people perform their own interpretations of Cole Porter songs is an appropriate celebration of the songwriter’s legacy: in Porter’s day, “the song was the star,” Gitlin said, “often more than its performer.” Writing in an age before recorded music meant that Porter and his contemporaries made money by selling sheet music, so Porter himself designed much of his work intending it to be learned and sung by as many as people as possible.
“These songs are so rich,” Gitlin said. “There’s just so much you can do with them.”
The cabaret will take place in two shows on Thursday, the first in the JE master’s house at 5:30 p.m. and the second in the Branford common room at 6:30 p.m.