Take three of Southern California’s most talented musical theater performers, then add three-dozen or so Cole Porter songs linked together by an ingenious book, and you’ve got Patrick Young and Karin Bowersock’s Let’s Misbehave, a brand spanking new Cole Porter musical now getting a sparkling California Premiere at Long Beach’s International City Theatre.
Lindsey Alley, Marc Ginsburg, and Jennifer Shelton play Dorothy, Walter, and Alice, a trio of longtime New York City chums who make a pact to fall in love by the Fourth Of July, only a couple weeks hence. What they don’t realize is that two of them will find themselves in love with each other before the night is over.
As befits a Cole Porter Musical, book writer Bowersock takes us back to Porter’s heyday, the 1930s, a decade during which King Cole reigned supreme both on Broadway and in Hollywood with hit songs like “Night And Day,” “Anything Goes,” “I Get A Kick Out Of You,” “You’re The Top,” “It’s De-Lovely,” “You’d Be So Easy To Love,” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” “In The Still Of The Night,” and “Begin The Bequine,” all of them featured in Let’s Misbehave, including of course the title tune (originally introduced in 1937’s You Never Know).
It’s an early-summer mid-1930s night and all of Dorothy’s party guests have headed on home from her well-appointed New York apartment save two, Walter and Alice, along with (conveniently for them) pianist Brian, there to tickle the ivories whenever one, two, or all three of them suddenly burst into song.
Talk soon turns to love, Alice recalling an MD ex in “The Physician,” Dorothy expressing a desire for amour sauvage in “Find Me A Primitive Man,” and Walter bemoaning his not-too-lucrative choice of professions in “Never Be An Artist” … and if none of these titles rings a bell, their oh-so clever lyrics reveal at once that they could have been written by no one but Cole. Take for instance “I know he thought a lotta my medulla oblongata, but he never said he loved me,” or “He who aspires to be my stud must reawake my gypsy blood. Find me a primitive man,” or “Never, never be an artist if you like roast beef called ‘prime.’ Never, never be an artist unless you want to have a marvelous time.” Delightful! Delicious! De-lovely!
In tried-and true-jukebox musical tradition, Let’s Misbehave tailors plot to lyrics and finds lyrics to fit plot. Want Alice to sing “Always True To You In My Fashion”? (“Mister Harris, plutocrat, wants to give my cheek a pat. If the Harris pat means a Paris hat, Bébé.”) Give her a history of dating rich men and the song makes perfect sense. Want to include the politically incorrect but hilarious “Come To The Supermarket In Old Peking”? (“If you want a gong to beat, or a rickshaw with a sassy seat, come to the supermarket in old Peking.”) Have Alice, Dorothy, and Walter make some international travel plans in a medley that also includes “Let’s Fly Away” and “Begin The Beguine.”
Let’s Misbehave keeps things bright and breezy throughout Act One, but when Walter reveals that his heart belongs to only one of his two best girlfriends, things get a tad more serious, Act Two offering such Porter torchers as “It Was Just One Of Those Things,” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” and torchiest of all, “Every Time We Say Goodbye.” (Never fear. Book writer Bowersock finds a way to leave both her cast of characters and the audience with a smile on their faces and a song in their hearts.)
ICT favorite Todd Nielsen (Don’t Dress For Dinner, Master Class, The Robber Bridegroom) not only directs with accustomed style, imagination, and verve, he has choreographed a number of bright-and-breezy dance sequences, executed by the best three-person cast in town.
New York may have Audra McDonald on its coast, but we West Coasters have our very own, simply glorious, simply divine Jennifer Shelton, who proves herself a consummate triple threat here as she has time and time again in roles as diverse as Master Class’s Sharon, Ain’t Misbehavin’s Jennifer, and Songs For A New World’s Woman 1 at ICT in addition to countless star turns for Musical Theatre Guild and elsewhere.
Every bit as divine is the versatile Lindsey Alley, whose recent performances in Legally Blonde and Having It All have won her deserved acclaim, and the latter an Ovation Award nomination. Let’s Misbehave showcases not only Alley’s terrific vocals but her tiptop comedic chops, and what a treat it is to hear her pizzazzy pop soprano joined with Shelton’s exquisite legit tones in one Porter pearl after another.
Opposite these two sensational leading ladies, Ginsburg (recently seen as Leo Bloom in The Producers) proves himself as adept at Cary Grant sophistication as he was at Gene Wilder nebbishness, his debonair charm and gorgeous vocal chops making it no wonder that Walter’s got both Alice and Dorothy vying for his love.
Completing the cast at the grand piano is musical director Brian Baker, whose initially unnoticed presence in Dorothy’s living room provides quite a few laughs as the evening progresses. (Musical arrangements are by co-conceiver Young.)
Let’s Misbehave benefits from its bevy of International City Theatre resident designers: Kim DeShazo (costumes), Dave Mickey (sound), Patty, Gordon, and Christopher Briles (properties), and Anthony Gagliardi (hair and wigs), with frequent ICT scenic designer JR Bruce joining the resident team for this 2014 season.
Alley, Ginsburg, and Shelton may sport only one outfit each, but what 1930s stunners DeShazo has created, with kudos too to Alley’s and Shelton’s sleek wigs and Ginsburg’s pomaded locks. Mickey’s sound design is as always impeccable, and as for Bruce’s elegant Manhattan apartment set and the Briles’ pitch-perfect props, who wouldn’t want to come home to a flat like this one, particularly when lighting designer Donna Ruzika bathes it in one gorgeous hue after another.
In fact, if this reviewer has any nit to pick, it’s a tiny one, that the Act Two grande finale “At Long Last Love” interrupts the audience’s applause just as folks are starting to rise to their feet, and loses Alley, Ginsburg, and Shelton the standing ovation they deserve.
Let’s Misbehave is produced by ICT artistic director caryn desai. Darryl Archibald is music supervisor. Henry “Heno” Fernandez is production stage manager and Tim Wright assistant stage manager. Casting is by Michael Donovan, CSA, with casting associate Richie Ferris.
Recent revivals of the Cole Porter classics Anything Goes and Kiss Me Kate have reminded Southern California audiences of the genius that was Cole. By not only spotlighting a number of those two shows’ Greatest Hits but other Porter standards—and quite a few lesser known gems—as well, Let’s Misbehave makes for a unique and utterly charming evening of Cole Porter magic.
International City Theatre, Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach.
January 24, 2014
Photos: Suzanne Mapes