Sunday, January 26, 2014

Review - Let's Misbehave: The Music and Lyrics of Cole Porter

Jennifer Shelton, Marc Ginsburg and Lindsey Alley. Photos by Suzanne Mapes

International City Theatre opened its 29th season this past weekend with the California premiere of Let’s Misbehave: The Music and Lyrics of Cole Porter. The relatively new musical by Karin Bowersock (book) and Patrick Young (musical arrangements) weaves together more than thirty Cole Porter standards in a story that could easily have been created from one of the composers own lyrics.

Porter wrote musicals for both Broadway and Hollywood during the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, as well as hundreds of stand-alone songs that solidified his place in the history of American music. Known for his ability to craft a song with unparalleled wit and sophistication, only he could possibly think to rhyme a word like “provincial” with “Walter Winchell” and get away with it (from the song “Let’s Fly Away” from The New Yorkers).

The conceit of Let’s Misbehave is, of course, love. Three longtime friends bask in the afterglow of one of Dorothy’s fabulous New York parties, dishing about the guests who have just left and commiserating on the sorry state of their own love lives. Determined to end their fabulous-but-single status, they make an agreement to fall in love before the fourth of July. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that, before long, this trio of friends will be part and parcel of a love triangle that threatens to break at least one heart along the way.   

Porter’s songs provide the storytelling aspects of the show, which rely heavily on the comedy to move the story forward. Lindsey Alley is Dorothy, the smart, sassy, society gal reminiscent of the leading ladies of the 1930’s and Jennifer Shelton the beautiful ingénue who would rather find “the one” than continue to be set dressing on the arm of a wealthy older man. Marc Ginsburg (Walter) fills the role of the humble artist; a painter without the pedigree to mingle with the elite, were it not for his rich and fabulous friends. 

Vocally the singers have a sublime command of the music. Shelton handles the difficult intervals and fast patter of her songs beautifully (and that isn’t easy), plus, she has plenty of opportunities to show off her shimmering soprano notes. Alley scores big with showstoppers that sit in the sweet spot of her voice allowing her to soar with emotion, and Ginsburg is a convincing leading man who holds his own with the ladies, though he stiffens up when the second act reaches romance territory. 

Director Todd Nielsen cleverly stages the show to enhance the comic opportunities Cole Porter’s songs provide and manages to fit some smart living room choreography into the story. It’s well-executed by the cast but the focus alternates between a story playing out between the three characters and a show being presented for the audience that doesn’t always fit smoothly together.

Added to that is an onstage pianist (Brian Baker) who we assume is the accompanist from the party but who doesn’t interact with the characters except for a couple of awkward moments that come out of nowhere. He is featured so prominently onstage that it’s hard not to wonder why he isn’t participating with the singers or what he did all night while the three of them fell asleep tangled up on the fainting couch. He doesn’t have a noticeable interaction until near the end of the musical and by then it just seems out of place. That aside, he plays beautifully, and that’s what we really want to hear. Thanks to him, Cole Porter’s music sparkles like a champagne bubble about to burst.  

JR Bruce’s spacious art deco apartment features clean lines and a polished New York skyline detail enhanced by Donna Ruzikas jewel-toned lighting. Kim DeShazo’s costumes are particularly glamorous, with Shelton’s eye-popping satin gown and Alley’s jewel-encrusted black number the epitome of high society.

Spending two hours with International City Theatre in the company of Cole Porter’s music is a rare delight. Let’s Misbehave gives the audience a distinctive opportunity to relish Porter’s smart humor and the intoxicating refrain of a delicious melody like a true Manhattanite. As they say, “it’s de-lovely!”

LET'S MISBEHAVE: The Music and Lyrics of Cole Porter
January 22 - February 16, 2014
International City Theatre
Long Beach Performing Arts Center
300 E. Ocean Blvd.
Long Beach CA 90802
Tickets: (562) 436-4610 or

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