Written with acclaimed writer and former school friend, Anna Goldsworthy, ‘Cole’ explores and celebrates Porter’s music and his extravagant, if contradictory, lifestyle that led to his iconic status in cabaret music and gay culture.
“It’s a sort of character study and a bio,” Michael explains. “We really use him falling in love with his wife Linda and her encouraging his talent and him falling in love with this Russian dancer Boris who we have made a conglomerate of different male lovers. It’s very informal and the sort of things we talk about aren’t the sort of thing that you would have talked about back in his day. It’s a very human show.”
The one-hour show is a greatest hits of the songs Porter wrote for some of Broadway’s and Hollywood’s most popular musicals.
“We go from ‘Let’s Misbehave’ which was kind of his first big hit song in the twenties, right through to ‘Kiss me, Kate’  and everything in between.”
Michael stays true to Porter’s original piano arrangements, singing the songs the way they were first put down.
“When we started working on the show, I made a conscious decision to do the songs faithfully to the original. Because Cole Porter songs are standards, we tend to know a jazz version of a song and think that that’s how it was written. For instance, with ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’, we all know Frank Sinatra swinging it with a big band, and it’s heaven and I love that version, but the way it was written isn’t actually swing. It’s more of a gentle, almost sad Bossa Nova.”
With critically acclaimed Annie Lennox and Madonna tribute shows under his belt, Michael is familiar with inhabiting the songs of music icons. Mastering the style of technique of Porter however proved his greatest challenge to date.
“The things that were prized in his day were diction and intelligence and wit and this show has demanded a kind of practise that I’ve never done before because the songs are just so sophisticated. His stuff is so chromatic and so clever that it’s been hard. But it’s worth every minute and every hour because they [the songs] deserve your hard work.”
And the hard work has paid off. Since premiering at the 2015 Adelaide Cabaret Festival, ‘Cole’ has wowed audiences in the US, UK and most recently in New Zealand, won Michael Best Cabaret Performer at the 2016 Helpmann Awards and was the top rated cabaret show at the 2016 Edinburgh Fringe. Discussing the show’s success, Michael names performing in the Elgar Room at Royal Albert Hall earlier this year as a highlight.
“Singing Cole Porter songs on Elton John's piano with Kylie Minogue’s mirror ball above me was a gay trifecta,” he says, laughing.
‘Cole’ will go on hiatus while Michael tours his new show ‘Lucky: Songs By Kylie’ around Australia next year, however Michael is confident that Porter’s enduring appeal will see him revisit the show.
“Cole Porter’s not going away, so I have a feeling it’s a show I will have in my pocket for a long time.”