For Fawn Fritzen, the idea was born two years ago, the first time she sang with music maven Grant Simpson.
“We chatted a bit during the break and he mentioned that he’d been thinking of doing this Cole Porter show for dinner theatre or something. He was just kind of throwing it out,” Fritzen recalls.
“She was all over it and has never let up,” Simpson says. “Every chance she got, she would say, ‘When are we going to do our Cole Porter show?'”
The answer is next week, when she, Simpson and four other musicians present an all-Porter evening called Let’s Do It at the Old Fire Hall.
The others are Kate Weekes, Nicole Edwards, Dave Haddock and Selina Heyligers-Hare.
This is not Simpson’s first tribute to the prolific American composer-lyricist.
“The last time I did a Cole Porter show was 16 years ago,” he says. “I know that because my son, Cole, is 16 years old, and that’s when I named him.”
Fritzen may not be quite that dedicated, but she definitely admires Porter’s work.
“He has some really great lyrics and clever rhymes, but the melodies are beautiful too,” she says.
“I don’t love all of it, but there are some that are just so much fun, or beautiful… just really meaty.You can really get into them.”
Coming from a musical-theatre background, and equipped with what she calls a “belting” voice,Fritzen knows what she likes in a song.
“I’m attracted to songs that have great words, or great lines, and to singers that are very clear, like Ella Fitzgerald,”Fritzen says.
“I loved the Carpenters when I was in high school, because Karen Carpenter had such abeautiful voice and beautiful diction. You could understand all the words.”
With her growing interest in singing and writing in a jazz idiom since leaving her government job to focus on her young family and her developing musical career, Fritzen has many Porter favourites
“Some are the ones you hear over and over, but I’m still discovering more. He wrote over 1,000 songs,” she notes.
“I love ‘So in Love’, and I’m looking forward to doing it with Dave [Haddock]. I think it will take on a new life.”
Although Fritzen has sung it as a solo before, it was written as a duet for one of Porter’s most successful Broadway musicals, Kiss Me Kate.
She has also chosen a lesser-known Porter song, ‘I’ve Still Got My Health,’ which Bette Midler sang in the movie Beaches.
“It’s not heard that often, and it’s a really fun tune. The lyrics are really fun.”
One challenge facing Simpson and his colleagues was deciding what to include in the show. Nearly 50 years after Porter’s death, literally dozens of his songs remain instantly recognizable.
A small sampling: ‘Night and Day’, ‘Begin the Beguine’, ‘Don’t Fence Me In’, ‘I Get a Kick Out of You’, ‘Just One of Those Things’, ‘You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To’, ‘Anything Goes’, ‘My Heart Belongs to Daddy’, ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’, ‘Another Opening, Another Show’, ‘Love For Sale’ and the upcoming show’s title tune, ‘Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall in Love)’. On and on it goes.
But for Heyligers-Hare, the youngest member of Simpson’s ensemble, Porter was a new discovery.
“I didn’t even know who he was before Grant asked me. So I looked him up and listened to his songs. Really cool,” the 15-year-old singer says.
“His lyrics are amazing. They’re really good. His songs are crazy. They’re hard to learn, because they’re so complicated.”
Heyligers-Hare admits Simpson had to explain many of the references in the 1934 “list” song, ‘You’re the Top’, written more than six decades before she was born.
“The reason I wanted her to get involved is because the music that she’s doing doesn’t always push her musically. Cole Porter pushes her musically, probably farther than she’s been pushed before,” Simpson says.
“She and I rehearsed yesterday, and I’m telling you, she’s going to be a killer at this show. She’s great.”
In picking his collaborators for the show, Simpson was looking for a “really interesting variety of approaches” to the music, and experienced musicians who were willing to stretch their boundaries.
“It’s just not easy stuff to tackle. He’s unconventional in every way.”
Another challenge in shaping the program was deciding who would sing what.
As Fritzen tells it, this involved a bit of compromise over one of her favourites, the haunting ‘Love ForSale’, immortalized by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Eartha Kitt.
“Nicole’s going to do that one. We arm-wrestled over it a little bit, but it was all pretty civilized,” she laughs.
“But she hadn’t done it before, and she wanted to add one that was new for her.”
However, Fritzen will take on ‘Miss Otis Regrets’, another tune closely associated with Fitzgerald.
“I’m really looking forward to that. I hadn’t heard it before Grant introduced me to it.”
Let’s Do It will take place Saturday, May 5 at 8 p.m. at the Old Fire Hall.