Vicki Paris Goodman
Let’s Misbehave is sheer enjoyment. It conveys no profound message and no moral of the story. It exists purely to entertain its audience.
Under the auspices of its artistic director, the incomparable caryn desai [sic], International City Theatre presents the California premiere of the show featuring the performances of some 35 Cole Porter classic songs. With dialogue almost conspicuously absent from the revue, the songs tell the ultimately uplifting story, such as it is.
Let’s Misbehave is another in a recent spate of shows wherein someone has contrived a story line to fit a particular artist’s songs and arranged them in sequence to advance the plot. In this case, that “someone” is the team of Karin Bowersock (book) and Patrick Young (musical arrangements), whose simple story imparts general optimism while inhabiting a stylish, cocktail-intensive lifestyle from songwriter Porter’s long-gone era. The same device was used to turn the songs of ABBA into the hit musical Mamma Mia!
Let’s Misbehave will likely never meet with the smash success of a show like Mamma Mia!, as it isn’t as current nor nearly as dynamic. After all, Porter’s body of work emanated from the 1920s, ‘30s, and ‘40s, and it depicts a romanticism all but absent from our culture today. So you might say that the show has an appeal limited to the elder among us. I hope I’m wrong about that.
Directed by Todd Nielsen, the cast of Lindsey Alley, Marc Ginsburg, and Jennifer Shelton couldn’t have been better chosen. The three (30-something?) best friends achieve the chemistry to make their bond thoroughly believable. The love triangle the story sets up realizes just enough dramatic tension to awaken our emotions. First-rate chemistry deserves vocals to match, and this cast does not disappoint. Hence, Porter’s songs are delivered perfectly in tune with all of the expression, emotion and excitement they require.
Alley is the most vocally expressive of the three, and that suits her character’s extroverted personality. The lovely and more operatic Shelton seems to depend more on facial expression and movement to convey what her voice may not. She has mastered the trade-off, if there truly is one. Ginsberg, with a wonderful range and romantic vocal quality, accomplishes the difficult task of inspiring goosebumps while convincingly drawing a gentleman’s line between love and friendship.
And let’s not forget the songs, some of which were unfamiliar to me. My husband Sam, who is a bit older, knew all but one or two. Those I could sing along to are “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “Anything Goes,” “Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall in Love,” “Begin the Beguine,” “Night and Day,” “In the Still of the Night,” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” and “De-Lovely.”
If any incongruity exists, it is that the simplistic story line is no match for the sophistication of Porter’s songs. Fortunately, scenic designer JR Bruce’s attractive set, depicting a well-appointed New York apartment, and costume designer Kim DeShazo’s glittering evening gowns and tux, make up for some of the disconnect.
What ICT’s Let’s Misbehave has going for it is quality. And when quality meets the songs of Cole Porter, you could attend a musical revue with no story whatsoever and still have an absolutely splendid time.
Let’s Misbehave continues at International City Theatre through Feb. 16. Tickets are $47 for Friday and Saturday evening performances and for Sunday matinees; $42 for Thursday evening performances. Evening performances are at 8pm; Sunday matinees are at 2pm. ICT is located in the Long Beach Performing Arts Center at 300 East Ocean Blvd. Call (562) 436-4610 for reservations and information. Tickets are also available online at InternationalCityTheatre.org .