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Holiday show celebrating Cole Porter is playing to packed (masked) houses in Paris


Many of Cole Porter's songs are about Paris. The renowned American songwriter lived in the city during the 1920s, and the French capital had a profound influence on his songwriting. NPR's Paris correspondent Eleanor Beardsley brings us this report on a holiday show that pays tribute to the American musical genius.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGER #5: (Singing) I love Paris in the springtime.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Cole Porter in Paris, a holiday show playing through January 1 at the Chatelet Theatre, is all about the creative life and times of Cole Porter in the City of Light during the Roaring '20s. Thomas Lauriot de Prevost is director of the Chatelet Theatre.

THOMAS LAURIOT DE PREVOST: It's, of course, an American story because it's a story about an American genius. But it's also a French story because it's a story about what was the artistic dynamics, the freedom of speech, the freedom of living, of creation of those years in Paris. It's a very French story.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGER #5: (Singing) You come to Paris. You come to play.

BEARDSLEY: Porter wasn't the only great American artist in the French capital at that time - think George Gershwin, Ernest Hemingway, Irving Berlin. In America, there was prohibition. But during the annees folles, the crazy years of the 1920s, Paris was bubbling over with creativity after the trauma of World War I, says Lauriot dit Prevost.

DE PREVOST: There were, actually, artists from all over the world in Paris during those annees folles just after the First World War and the 10 years that followed. And so that was a very important influence that he had from different countries and different artists.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGER #5: (Singing) You’re the top. You’re the coliseum.

BEARDSLEY: The lyrics, dancing, costumes and sets evoke that era and Porter's world. He and his wife, the older Linda Lee, were known as Les Coleporteurs. The fabulously wealthy couple's parties were extravagant and scandalous. Porter also had a passionate affair with Russian dancer and poet Boris Kochno. Though homosexuality was illegal in France at the time, there was an open-mindedness in the art world, says Lauriot dit Prevost.

DE PREVOST: In that circle, for sure, it was not too difficult to to be either bisexual or gay. And it surely explains a lot why Cole Porter was so creative when he was in Paris.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGER #5: (Singing) Let's misbehave. Let's misbehave. Let's misbehave.

BEARDSLEY: The Chatelet Theatre usually puts on a Broadway musical at the end of the year with a big American or British cast brought in. But with COVID, that wasn't possible, says Lauriot dit Prevost. Instead, they created this original show to continue sharing the joy of musical theater with their Parisian audience.

DE PREVOST: It's a story that is told through the songs of Cole Porter. The songs of Cole Porter are in many different styles. Some are very funny. Some are very touching and moving.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGER #5: (Singing) Say you're fond of fancy things, diamond clips and emerald rings.

BEARDSLEY: For authenticity, the songs are in English, though sung with a French accent. The dialogue stitching them together is in French. Audiences are eating it up.

VANESSA SAUNOIS: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "We loved it," says Vanessa Saunois. It's a tableau of the era and a bridge between France and America. It's not lost on anyone here that the Roaring '20s also followed a worldwide pandemic. Francois Charrie and his friends say they're thrilled to be at a live performance for the first time since 2020.

FRANCOIS CHARRIE: A lot of fun - and the singers was beautiful, and the dancers, too. And the story is amazing. And that's a good occasion for us to know a little bit more about Cole Porter.

BEARDSLEY: Cole Porter in Paris has been playing to packed houses, though audiences are masked and no one gets in without proof of vaccination. A small price to pay, say these theatregoers, for a little joy at the holiday season.


BEARDSLEY: Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.