Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Getting under the Skin of Cole Porter

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Getting under the Skin of Cole Porter

Article excerpt

Kevin Kline considers himself an actor, not a singer, despite the fact that his two Tony Awards were both for musicals - "The Pirates of Penzance" and "On the Twentieth Century."

But when he was cast as Cole Porter in "De-Lovely," a film that's a musical biography of the composer, he had definite ideas as to how he should sing - and this despite the fact that Porter was known as being one of the least effective interpreters of his memorable body of songs.

Kline objected to the way singing has traditionally been done in the movies: He didn't want to lip sync - synchronizing his lip movements to a prerecorded rendition of the song. "When I did [the film version of] 'Pirates of Penzance,' I got to the studio and recorded the music I'm going to be singing in a couple of months," he recalls. "It's ridiculous. It's insane. How can I act when I'm lip synching?"

The actor noted that Porter was not a great singer, so there was no need to create some idealized rendition in the scenes where he sang. If anything, he was more concerned about playing the part so that "if a nice accident should happen" during the scene, it could be used. He points to the moment when he sings of a great love while romancing his future wife, Linda (played by Ashley Judd), in a Parisian park. Turning to a passerby, he ad libbed, "Not you, dear."

"The sound technicians were tearing their hair out," he says. "It was about me just singing, not filling a house. It was more about acting."

In spite of a score consisting of numerous Cole Porter classics rendered by Kline and a variety of contemporary musicians (including Elvis Costello, Alanis Morissette, Natalie Cole, Diana Krall, and Sheryl Crow), "De-Lovely" really is about the acting. Porter was one of the great popular composers of the first half of the 20th century, writing songs such as "Let's Misbehave," "Begin the Beguine," "You're the Top," and "I've Got You Under My Skin." His Broadway and Hollywood work include "Kiss Me, Kate," "Gay Divorce," "High Society," and "Anything Goes."

The previous film biography of Porter was the highly fictionalized "Night and Day" (1946) with Cary Grant and Alexis Smith in the roles played in "De-Lovely" by Kline and Judd. …

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