Review: ‘Let’s Misbehave: Cole Porter After Dark’ with The American Pops Orchestra at Arena Stage

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What does the American songbook mean to you?

For many, I’m sure it brings to mind those delightful tunes of old with their lilting melodies, simple lyrics, and squeaky clean imagery. If you are of that mindset, you might want to spend a night with the American Pops Orchestra. This innovative group of artists are reinvigorating the tunes you know and love with a contemporary flair that never fails to please. Their latest concert, Let’s Misbehave: Cole Porter After Dark, showcased Porter’s enduring appeal and made for an evening that could only be described as “too darn hot.”

Founded in 2015 by Luke Frazier, the Pops has celebrated artists such as the Gershwins, Barbra Streisand, and Edith Piaf with performances by Amber Iman, Lindsey Mendez, and Christine Ebersole. Even with such an impressive resume, this production raised the bar in terms of star power with the best of Broadway, D.C., and even the world of pop gathered to pay homage to these timeless tunes.

With a 20-piece orchestra, a simple chaise longue, and a table set for two, director Kelly Crandall D’Amboise was able to instantly evoke a feeling of sensuality that could be felt throughout Arena’s Fichandler Stage. The inspired decision to add outlandish personal ads from various lovelorn individuals provided a comical twist to an already delightful evening of music. Led by the nuanced and exuberant conducting of Maestro Frazier, the orchestra nimbly maneuvered throughout the complex arrangements with crowd-pleasing vigor.

Even if Cole Porter was around today, I doubt he could have assembled a better cast. Tony nominee Liz Callaway (and singing voice for Dreamworks’ Anastasia) sounded simply ageless with her stunning interpretations of “Why Shouldn’t I?” and “I Happen to Like New York.” Ali Ewoldt, taking the night off from her starring turn in Broadway’s Phantom of the Opera, demonstrated the highs and lows of love with “It’s De-Lovely” and “In the Still of the Night.” Coming off of his Broadway debut in Groundhog Day, Vishal Vaidya may just be the next Michael Buble with his charismatic “Begin the Beguine” and “Experiment.” Bobby Smith, a seminal D.C. darling, wooed the crowd with “You Do Something to Me” and the showstopper “I’m a Gigolo.” Broadway tapper Luke Hawkins brought Gene Kelly style to the stage with two exceptionally athletic solo dances.

The cherry on top of this incredible night was the orchestral debut of Australian pop dynamo, Betty Who. Combining her voluptuous sound with the lyricism of Porter proved a coup in medleys such as “Somebody Loves You/You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To” and ”Ignore Me/Why Can’t You Behave?” Her rendition of “Love for Sale” was a perfect example of Porter’s playfulness and her belting in the rousing finale, “Let’s Misbehave,” brought the audience to its feet.

While audiences may be saddened by the absence of the Pops in the summer months, we can look forward to the music of Luther Vandross and Jerry Herman in its upcoming season. With the Pops continually raising the bar with its programming, it is guaranteed that we will continue to be astounded.

Let’s Misbehave: Cole Porter After Dark was performed on May 19, 2018, at Arena Stage – 1101 Sixth Street SW, in Washington, DC. For more information about the American Pops Orchestra or tickets to upcoming events, go online.