Los Angeles Theater Review: LET’S MISBEHAVE (International City Theatre in Long Beach)

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by Tony Frankel on February 1, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles


It’s something of a shocker, really. I had a great time watching Let’s Misbehave, a jukebox musical slim on both premise and reality. It’s actually more of a cabaret in which three super-talented and likeable performers knock off 34 Cole Porter ditties with style and elegance, and that’s the part that worked. The libretto by Karin Bowerstock involves three friends drinking it up after a party in the mid-1930s. There’s struggling artist Walter, sweet Miss Lonely-hearts Alice, and the jet-setting Dorothy, whose swank apartment is the locale for this songfest.

Jennifer Shelton, Marc Ginsburg and Lindsey Alley in International City Theatre's production of "Let's Misbehave."

They bid farewell to the last party guest, singing “Well, did You Evah? (What a Swell Party This Is),” followed by the rarely performed double-entendre gossipy hilarity, “Her Heart Was in Her Work” (cut from Porter’s Can-Can). It’s all just so swell that the chums have to croon, “I Get a Kick Out of You.” You get the picture. A few lines of dialogue. Set-up. Song. A few lines of dialogue. Set-up. Song.

After a few pseudo character-defining numbers (Walter the painter laments “Never Never Be an Artist”), the three make a pact to fall in love by the Fourth of July. Soon it becomes a ménage à Porter when it’s discovered that both dames have a crush on Walter. Misunderstandings and dozens of songs ensue. Can you guess if it all turns out right in the end?

Jennifer Shelton, Marc Ginsburg, Lindsey Alley in International City Theatre's production of "Let's Misbehave."

I freely admit to having a critic’s crush on Jennifer Shelton. Becoming, magnetic, alluring, and gorgeous, she is incapable of singing one false note. As Alice, she cunningly tackles the tongue-twisting patter song “Let’s Not Talk About Love” from Let’s Face It! (1941, written for Danny Kaye). Alice, who looks for love in all the wrong places, also gets the rarely performed “The Physician,” a hoot of a song from Nymph Errant (1933), a lousy show with great songs that define Porter’s sexual sophistication and lyric trickery. Shelton niftily swerves from belting to lyric soprano, adding a sort of kittenish kooky deadpan demeanor which made the lyrics soar:


Jennifer Shelton and Lindsey Alley in International City Theatre's production of "Let's Misbehave."

This truly encyclopedic production includes “Find Me a Primitive Man” from Fifty Million Frenchmen (1929), comically crooned by powerhouse Lindsey Allen as the wisecracking socialite Dorothy. The fetching Marc Ginsburg sells every song with impeccable flair; he is infectiously delightful when swinging with another great patter song, “Ridin’ High,” an Act I closer from Red, Hot and Blue (1936) introduced by Ethel Merman as Nails O’Reilly Duquesne. The oddity is that Ginsburg breaks a firmly established fourth wall and sings the song directly to us.

Similar eccentricities abound, and it’s a shame that director/choreographer Todd Nielsen doesn’t find it necessary to infuse the event with authenticity. First of all, there’s a piano player accompanying the gang, the sensational music director Brian Baker, but he does it in Dorothy’s living room (they refer to him as “Brian”). It’s a great idea that Brian happens to be there working the party, but when they cue him to play after the first few songs (“Hit it!” is said at one time), it becomes a sloppy device—especially after the three go to sleep and wake up the next morning to belt out some more tunes, and there’s Brian just sitting unrumpled at the piano.

Jennifer Shelton, Lindsey Alley, and Marc Ginsburg (with Brian Baker on piano) in International City Theatre's production of "Let's Misbehave."

It’s also strange that our trio bangs back gin, bourbon, and champagne but hardly seems intoxicated. After a tight sleep on a chaise longue, the three bounce back to life with little stiffness and no hangover whatsoever. It’s just back to the cabaret. And why are they singing “The night is fine” early in the morning?

The generic, gushing, gooey-eyed characterizations can also be forgiven, because we no longer live in a world of distinctive personalities the likes of Betty Hutton and Eve Arden; what we get here is Disney Theme Park with racy lyrics.

In all fairness, the book is no worse than some of the silly Broadway librettos which spawned Porter’s magical work. I can even forgive one of Dorothy’s groaner exit lines, “I think I’ll go brush up on my Shakespeare,” a cheap allusion to the song from Kiss Me, Kate. Ultimately, it’s all about Porter and a game cast. That’s what makes this outing so “Easy to Love.”

photos by Suzanne Mapes

Let’s Misbehave
International City Theatre
Long Beach Performing Arts Center
300 East Ocean Blvd. in Long Beach
scheduled to end on February 16, 2014
for tickets, call 562-436-4610 or visit www.InternationalCityTheatre.org

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