Philly POPS heat up spring with Cole Porter tribute

The Philly POPS are getting into the swing of spring with “Cole Porter’s Broadway: Too Darn Hot,” a tribute to the legendary gay composer, songwriter and Broadway icon. 

Philly native and musician David Charles Abell will guest-conduct the performances, which run April 12-14 at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. The shows also will feature guest vocal appearances by jazz stylist Catherine Russell and Broadway stars Lisa Vroman and Ben Davis.

In a chat with PGN from his home in London, Abell said he discovered and became enamored with Porter’s music back in an era when finding music was a more complicated task.

“I went to Yale as an undergraduate. While I was there, I discovered a very obscure room on campus, and tucked away in a corner were gramophones and sheet music and player pianos. It was called Historical Sound Recordings.  This was an era before all the recordings in the world were available to anyone with an iPhone or a computer.

“I didn’t know much about the American Songbook at the time,” Abell added. “There weren’t even CDs then. This was 1977-1981. So, the way to discover these songs was either through sheet music or old recordings. This whole world of the 1930s and 1940s opens up to me as well as the great songs and musicals that were written at the time. There are lots and lots of songs that became pop hits. It just turned me on to the American Songbook and Cole Porter in particular.”

Abell said that, while “Too Darn Hot” is a tribute concert, he will try to pepper the performances with his knowledge about Porter’s life and times.   

“I always like to include some edutainment, which seems to be appropriate for a POPS concert because people come to have a good time. But there is so much interesting information to give them about Cole Porter. There’s just a lot to know. I’ll try to slip in bits and pieces of biographic information and give them a sense of what Cole was like and what his world was like as well.” 

While he expects the audiences to be longtime fans of Porter’s music, Abell said he hopes younger audience members hopefully will be entertained and discover where some of the music they’re into today draws its influences.   

“I think the audience will be all over the map. The age spread will be from 6 or 7 to 96 or 97. Some of the older people that grew up on Cole Porter songs will know them.”

Abell explained that most of the songs were popular in the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s when Porter was still alive. But then many of the songs got a second wind with the swing revival in the 1950s. It was a time when Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald recorded albums of Porter songs.

“So we will have orchestrations from the original Broadway show from the ’30s and ’40s, but we will also have some swing arrangements from the 1950s. Some of the younger people will not know Cole Porter at all, but there’s a lot to discover. It’s fun. It’s naughty. It’s entertaining. And it’s often poignant and romantic as well. So I want to show his range and get people excited about who he was.”

The Philly POPS and Abell perform “Cole Porter’s Broadway: Too Darn Hot” April 12-14 at The Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall, 300 S. Broad St. For more information or tickets, call 215-893-1999 or visit

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