A good Cole Porter song — is there another kind? — is like a fine wine. Just when you think it can't get better, it reveals new complexities.
"Let's Misbehave," the new show that opened Friday night at the Oregon Cabaret Theatre in Ashland, testifies to the Porter songbook's enduring richness with lively performances of some 30 tunes from various periods.
With its title taken from a Porter classic, "Let's Misbehave" should not be confused with any of the composer/lyricist's Broadway musicals. The show is the brainchild of Patrick Young and Karin Bowersock at Bristol Valley Theatre in Naples, N.Y., where Bowersock is the artistic director. The two made up a bare-bones story as a vehicle for the music and lyrics of some of Porter's best-loved songs, as well as some lesser-known ones.
It's the late 1920s or early '30s in a fabulous New York City apartment where Dorothy (Kymberli Colbourne) has hosted a party. You simply had to be there, dahlings.
We can see the Big Apple's skyline outside designer Craig Hudson's sumptuous, deco-inspired apartment set.
Exhausted and a bit drunk when her guests have finally left, Dorothy shares nightcaps with pal Walter (Robin Downward) and fellow party girl Alice (Katie Worley). Among the smart set, strong drink is not an issue; it's simply another weapon in the arsenal against the old ennui, don't you know. This is a world in which people wear evening cloths and quote Dorothy Parker and Walter Winchell, and ocean liners actually go somewhere.
There are less-familiar songs such as the archly satirical "Her Heart Was In Her Work," Worley's wry "The Physician" and Colbourne's broadly comic "Find Me a Primitive Man," the last of these with percussion by Downward on a chair and Worley on spoons. But we're soon in familiar territory with classics such as Worley's sexy "Always True to You in My Fashion," a rousing ensemble go at "Anything Goes" and Downward's smoothly confident take on "Begin the Beguine."
The latter is recognizable from its first notes, but its very familiarity masks its radical unconventionality, which if you listen is obvious even after all these years. The song is about a ballroom dance popular in the Caribbean at the time, and it utterly defies songwriting conventions then and now, to marvelous effect.
The plot element that moves our wisp of a story is an agreement by the three friends to each fall in love with somebody, anybody, leading to — what else? — a big rave-up of "Let's Do It, Let's Fall In Love." As they consider the possibilities of such a lark, they take turns at "You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To," "Night and Day" and "In the Still of the Night" before the first act winds up with "Friendship."
Young and Bowersock have built their story so that in some cases the songs seem to actually advance the plot — a good feature in a musical — as when Walter, unable to contain his ardor, sings "You Do Something to Me" to Alice.
All three performers are accomplished singers, and each has plenty of chances to sparkle, which they do. OCT's Jim Giancarlo, who directed, did the choreography, just enough to complement the music. Music Director Audra Cramer (Missy in last year's "The Marvelous Wonderettes" at OCT) provided piano accompaniment throughout.
The plot takes a turn in the second act as submerged feelings come out, threatening the balance of our triangle. With songs such as "You Do Something To Me," "I've Got You Under My Skin" and the title tune, you could feel it coming. But of course the story is mainly an excuse for all these sparkling songs. Not to stretch the comparison, but again like our wine, they leave a fine, lingering finish.
Bill Varble writes about arts and entertainment for the Mail Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.