"I wanted to give the songs of Cole Porter a context to be revued in," he says of the show, which he created in collaboration with Lina Koutrakos, Sally Mayes, and musical director/co-arranger Rick Jensen. "A couple of books have come out over the past few years that dealt with Porter's sexuality, but that aspect of his music is so often glossed-over: People do these kind of lounge versions of songs that have so much pathos in them. So I decided to present the songs from the perspective of two different gay characters from two generations. One is Cliff, a fictional gigolo of Porter's own time--the kind of man he would have run around with in that closeted era. Then we jump to New York at the millennium with this contemporary character of a Chelsea-type gay boy named Chase, and we see where the music takes us today. You find that you're left with a lot of the same themes, like separateness and obsession."
The genesis of Confidentially, Cole was rapid. "I started working on the show last February," relates Hayden, who moved to NYC just a year ago from Dallas, "and we had it up on stage about nine months later. I've done so much research on Cole Porter that he's gotten to be sort of a second skin for me." The show premiered at the Triad on West 72nd St. in November, and Hayden is now in the midst of a return engagement there through March 4.
The son of a Baptist minister and farmer, Hayden was an attorney for several years before becoming a full-time performer. (His credits include principal appearances with the Dallas Shakespeare Festival and Fort Worth Shakespeare in the Park, as well as the role of Joseph Pitt in the regional premiere of Tony Kushner's Angels in America). Confidentially, Cole has gained him much praise from critics and audiences, plus the mentorship of cabaret icon/Porter expert Steve Ross.
"I think we've really touched on something," says Hayden. "The show is never what people expect when they come into it. They think it's going to be this queeny, stereotypical picture of the Cole Porter area, so they're really surprised. Younger gay men seem to respond to the 'It's All Right With Me' section of the show--that whole 'last call' feeling. Older men latch onto 'I Loved Him, But He Didn't Love Me.' For guys who've been through a lifetime of love and loss and struggle, that song always brings them to tears."
One of Hayden's personal favorite moments in the show is "Dream Dancing," an ethereal ballad about romantic fantasy. "That's the last time we hear from the Cliff character," he says, "and it epitomizes the feeling of separateness from love, emotion, and a fulfilling relationship that is typical of Cole Porter. Another song that gets a lot of response is 'To Love and Not to Love.' When you hear it sung by both characters, it sums up the whole show and Porter in general. It can be interpreted as a comment on coming out, or on whether or not falling in love is worth the pain--no matter if you're gay or straight. You know, when I called the Porter estate to get the music to the song, they said they'd never heard of it. I told them, 'Well, it's in Robert Kimball's book of Porter's complete lyrics.' So they looked for the music, they found it in a file somewhere, and they sent it to me.
"I'm also really proud of the Hollywood sequence," Hayden continues, "because we took an obscure song called 'A Humble Hollywood Executive' and turned it on its ear with our arrangement. The first part of the lyric goes: 'A humble Hollywood executive at Bar X taught me, for several weeks consecutive, about sex.' It was cut from the show Mexican Hayride--and, of course, it was supposed to be sung by a women. I twisted the interpretation to make it about a guy who's working his way up the casting-couch ladder. I'm so intrigued by that whole Rock Hudson/James Dean era of Hollywood."
What's next for Confidentially, Cole? "We have a tour that's probably going to kick off in April and run through June, ending in Los Angeles. It looks like we're also going to London, and there's some talk of an open-ended off-Broadway run next fall--with production values!" An excellent CD of the show has just been released, soon to have major national distribution.
Given his personal and professional background, it's natural to wonder if Hayden has had to deal with some of the same issues faced by the officially closeted Porter. Surely, many of his fans would be interested in details on Sean's sexual preference. But he prefers to remain somewhat enigmatic on these subjects.
"I can relate to everything that happens in the show on some level," he says. "I've been in love with men, and I've been in love with women. The freedom to pursue love is what the show is about to me."