The shows, part of the Tri-C Presents performing arts series, take place at 2 and 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 28, at Huntington Playhouse in Bay Village, and at 8 p.m. March 1 at the Alcazar Hotel – where Porter was said to have written Night and Day – in Cleveland Heights.
Indiana actor Rob Johansen stars as Porter, the Depression-era composer and lyricist behind such tunes as Anything Goes and Kiss Me Kate. Touching, revealing, humorous and tuneful, the show covers the arc of Porter’s life and is interspersed with music played and performed by singers from Tri-C’s music program and accompanied by a Tri-C faculty ensemble.
“He was a man that found magic in simple work, simple beauty, simple fun, childlike creativity,” said Johansen, who has performed the show off and on over the past five years. “His origins came out of the circus. (As a child), he would sneak into the circus and watch those performers rehearse those routines. A lot of the magic in his songwriting came from this childlike wonder.”
Johansen developed the show with Chris Ludwa, Tri-C’s executive director of performing arts, when both were living and working in Indiana. Ludwa was leading a vocal group in a show about Porter, but he wanted to add a dramatic element to supply insight into Porter’s life. At first, Ludwa simply asked Johansen to take the acting job.
“I said, ‘OK, well, do you have a script in mind?’ He said, ‘I was hoping you would agree to write it.’ “
Six days a week for the next six weeks, Johansen threw himself into researching Porter and writing the script. The show debuted at Caleb Mills Hall in Indianapolis in September 2009.
“At the end of it, it went so well that we both thought it would be great if we could do it another time,” Johansen said. The show also has been performed in Michigan and in Porter’s hometown of Peru, Ind.
“This show and Rob’s portrayal give these songs new life and relevance that is quite touching and beautiful,” Ludwa said.
Tickets for the Tri-C performances are $20; $15 (seniors and Tri-C employees) and $10 (students). They can be purchased online at www.trictickets.com or by calling 216-987-4444. The Alcazar Hotel is at 2450 Derbyshire Road, Cleveland Heights. Huntington Playhouse is at 28601 Lake Road, Bay Village.