When it comes to staging shimmering and stylish surefire crowd pleasers, International Theatre Center of Long Beach holds a candle second to none. “Let’s Misbehave” is just another sterling testimony to that.
Now frankly, the work itself is your basic “clothes line” play, with a narrative that’s thin and stretched. Three friends, sophisticated, urbane New Yorkers of that mold, which only actually existed on the Broadway stage or the back lot of MGM, find themselves together at the tail end of a delightfully riotous party.
There’s the sultry hostess Dorothy (Lindsey Alley), the uninhibited Alice (Jennifer Shelton) who’s always on the prowl for a new black or red square to add to her checkered past, and Walter (Marc Ginsburg) the struggling young artist whose bohemian lifestyle is decked out in a white dinner jacket.
After each grumbles about the dismal prospect of an empty bed awaiting them, Walter proposes a pact: that they all find themselves a lover within a month’s time. So our three musical musketeers of Manhattan set to planning how best to storm the walls of Cupid’s fortress.
Now, your “clothes line” play is nothing but a length of plain cord, it’s what you adorn it with that matters, and if what you drape over it are the classic songs of Broadway’s peerless tune master Cole Porter, your audience faces the threat of OD’ing on toe-tapping. During the 20’s and 30’s Porter was Broadway’s most prolific songsmith, his shows such as “Wake Up and Dream”, “Gay Divorce”, and “Nymph Errant” are all but ignored today, but not the songs featured in them.
Reading the program, you may not be familiar with the thirty-plus song titles, but the moment you hear the first three notes of each one played, chances are you’ll recognize the tune immediately. “I Get A Kick Out of You”, “Begin the Beguine”, “Friendship”, and “De-Lovely” are classics, but you’ll also be treated to lesser known works like “Find Me a Primitive Man” and “Most Gentlemen Don’t Like Love”.
Porter wrote some of the cleverest and most romantic songs ever to be heard on the American stage, and even today, his lyrics can still raise a few hackles:
Some get a kick from cocaine
I’m sure that if I took even one sniff
that would bore me terrificly too
yet I get a kick out of you.
Or from his seldom heard “The Physician”:
He said my cerebellum was brilliant,
And my cerebrum far from N.G.,
I know he thought a lotta
My medulla oblongata,
But he never said he loved me.
He said my maxillaries were marvels,
And found my sternum stunning to see,
He did a double hurdle
When I shook my pelvic girdle,
But he never said he loved me.
Porter owned the Broadway musical until 1937 when his leg was mangled in a horrific horseback riding accident. His doctors advised amputation; the vain Porter refused and spent the next 21 years in continuous pain, all the while writing new musicals including his greatest hit, “Kiss Me Kate”.
In 1958, after having endured 34 operations in his struggle to salvage his limb it was finally lost. For the first time in two decades Porter was pain free. Perhaps, though, it was as the German philosopher Nietzsche wrote: “Take the hump from the hunchback and you rob him of his spirit.” After the loss of his leg, Porter would spend the last years of his life in near total seclusion. There would be no more songs, no more music.
On October 15, 1964, in Santa Monica, California, he died, age 73.
The most common problem afflicting the majority of “clothes line” plays is a lack of narrative. The lack of a solid book makes it feel less like a play and more like a concert. Fortunately the talents involved here easily overcome that obstacle.
Alley, Ginsburg and Shelton handle the songs masterfully and are able to play the humor or the pathos of each moment even when the script gives them none to play on.
JR Bruce has provided a superb set which Donna Ruzika compliments with her artistically flawless lighting, while Kim DeShazo has designed costumes for the cast that not only speak of the time period but which are stunningly beautiful.
Finally, director and choreographer Todd Nielsen, who has staged “Master Class” and “The Robber Bridegroom” for ITC in the past, applies his talent to fashioning this “valentine” to Cole Porter’s music, and it is a valentine Porter’s heart would have skipped a beat at receiving.
INTERNATIONAL CITY THEATRE
Long Beach Performing Arts Center
300 East Ocean Blvd.
Long Beach, CA 90802
Performances: Jan. 24 – Feb. 16
Thursdays at 8 p.m.: Feb. 6, 13
Fridays at 8 p.m.: Feb. 7, 14
Saturdays at 8 p.m.: Feb. 8, 15
Sundays at 2 p.m.: Feb. 2, 9, 16
Friday, Saturday, Sunday (except Jan. 24): $47