If you’ve ever left a Cole Porter musical feeling that you haven’t heard quite enough Cole Porter songs, then Long Beach’s International City Theatre may have the antidote: “Let’s Misbehave: A New Cole Porter Musical,” in its lushly executed California premiere.
That subtitle is coy: The songs are old, and Karin Bowersock’s book, about a love triangle among three friends, is a not so much a musical as a sequence of clever pretexts for working in those songs: 34 in all, newly arranged by Patrick Young.
But what the story lacks in depth and urgency it makes up for in its loving evocation of the ineffable, unmistakable Porter style. Its three characters approach the bravado if not quite the snap or fizz of the denizens of those bygone musicals (“Anything Goes” may be the apogee), that implausible, beautiful world where witty wordplay, playful ribaldry and endless cocktails keep heartbreak at bay. (Porter even wrote a love song to a cocktail: “Make It Another Old-Fashioned, Please.”) The ICT’s production plays up that world's nostalgic appeal.
It’s midsummer in the mid-1930s, and a party in a New York City apartment (a gorgeous Art Deco set by JR Bruce, with a color-changing backdrop splendidly lit by Donna Ruzika) is breaking up. The hostess, Dorothy (Lindsey Alley), asks her best friends Walter (Marc Ginsburg) and Alice (Jennifer Shelton)—all three stunningly dressed by Kim DeShazo—to stay behind for one more drink. The pianist (music director Brian Baker) also stays, fortunately, as he is needed whenever one of them breaks into song, which is often.
From the ensuing musical barrage, we learn that Alice has ended her engagement to a doctor (“The Physician”), Walter is an impecunious painter (“Never, Never Be an Artist”) and Dorothy seeks visceral passion (“Find Me a Primitive Man”). Bewailing their unattached status, they make a pact to find love by July 4 (“Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall in Love”)—without compromising their “Friendship.” The problem is that both Alice and Dorothy secretly have their hearts set on Walter.
The three strong singers seem to settle into their roles as the drama tightens in Act II. Shelton, a lovely ingénue, finds her stride in torch songs (“Goodbye, Little Dream, Goodbye”), while Alley’s brassy flair shines in her wonderfully silly and sexy “Let’s Misbehave,” and the affable Ginsburg reveals a gift for physical comedy in “Ridin’ High.”
Todd Nielsen both directs and choreographs with a light, gently humorous touch.
“Let’s Misbehave.” International City Theatre, Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 East Ocean Blvd., Long Beach. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. $42-$125. Ends Feb. 16. Contact: (562) 436-4610 or www.InternationalCityTheatre.org. Running time: 2 hours.