Music
Analyse of Cole Porter’s “You are the Top” to Understand Musical Theater Song Performance

Analyse of Cole Porter’s “You are the Top” to Understand Musical Theater Song Performance

You’ve spent your entire life learning how to sing. Perhaps you have been practicing for six months and learned the notes to your favorite cabaret song. Or maybe you have only just started learning to sing and you don’t know much about the notes and your technique. You will have a great performance regardless of your level of proficiency.

While it is one thing to be able to define a word, it is another to be able look up the meaning of every word in a dictionary. My personal favorite online dictionary from Merriam-Webster is the Merriam Webster Dictionary. It’s one thing to be able to understand the meanings of words in colloquial terms, as well as cultural references and all shades of innuendo.

It is very common for songs of musical theater to include phrases that do not conform to a standard definition. In Cole Porter’s “You’re the Top” classic, the singers refer to one another as “The Top”. Although it may seem obvious to not take this literally at face value, few singers really take the time to consider what “The Top” actually means. You can find out that very few people have ever used this phrase in its original form. It is actually a clever rearranging of the phrase “You’re tops” or “This IS tops.” The familiar connotations of the phrase “You’re Tops” include being the best at a specific task. This allows us to be more specific about our characters. We now know that these characters have a close relationship and each view the other as the best in something.

Porter uses many different references in the song to places such as the Louvre museum or characters like Mickey Mouse. We can see that each reference is a representation of how the character is best at a particular thing using the logic above. Porter’s statement, “You’re at the top…you are the Louvre museum,” is a clear example of Porter’s meaning. He really means, “You are the most elegant and artistically relevant thing that I have ever seen.” Porter is really saying that “You’re mickey mouse” when he says “You are mickey mouse”, he means “I have never met anyone more fun and free-spirited than you.”

This is only a small part of the text work required to discover a musical theatre song. To get to the heart of the writer, every word must be dissected. Only then will you be able to deliver on your intended purpose.

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