How a Cole Porter musical embodies Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences

In his 1983 book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, psychologist Howard Gardner challenged the concept of a single, all encompassing form of human intelligence. Instead, he posited that intelligence comes in at least eight different varieties:

  • Bodily-kinesthetic (physical and athletic)
  • Interpersonal
  • Intrapersonal (introspection and self-reflection)
  • Linguistic
  • Logical-mathematical
  • Musical
  • Naturalistic (relating to natural surroundings)
  • Spatial (relating to objects and space)

He would later add “existential” intelligence, which relates to philosophy, meaning, and spirituality.

Gardner’s theory makes a lot of sense, yes? Consider the world of work. People bring different skill sets to different jobs. Some people seem to have a knack for everything. Most of us are stronger in some aspects than in others.

Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes”

If you’d like to see a wonderful example of multiple intelligences at work, then take a look at these YouTube videos from the recent Broadway revival of Cole Porter’s 1934 classic musical, “Anything Goes,” directed by Kathleen Marshall and starring the extraordinary Sutton Foster in the lead role of Reno Sweeney.

The video above is a truncated version of the title number, performed at the 2011 Tony Awards. I see at least the following intelligences in play: Musical, bodily-kinesthetic, linguistic, and interpersonal. (Do you see more?)

And here’s Foster and co-star Colin Donnell performing another classic from the show, “You’re The Top”:

This number plays on the interpersonal intelligence of the two performers. Look at how they relate and interact, picking up on each other’s cues. And if you’re wondering about logical-mathematical intelligence, think about how Cole Porter incorporated all of the cultural and historical references into a snappy and memorable song.

Putting it all together is the job of director Kathleen Marshall. How many forms of intelligence go into her work?!

“Don’t be a jerk”

Finally, if you want a nice mix of the interpersonal and intrapersonal, watch Sutton Foster’s 2012 Commencement address at Ball State University. Talking plainly, unadorned by stage makeup, she presents a thoughtful, reflective, and warmhearted speech:

She closes with some advice, and she repeats it several times: “Don’t be a jerk.” Intelligent words, to be sure.


PBS page on Gardner’s multiple intelligences theory

Wikipedia article on multiple intelligences

Wikipedia article detailing people and items referenced in “You’re The Top”


I so regret that I never got to see this revival of “Anything Goes” on Broadway. However, I recently saw the national touring production, starring the superb Rachel York in the lead role. It was first rate, and it reinforced the timeless quality of Cole Porter’s work.

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