BWW Review: LET'S MISBEHAVE: COLE PORTER AFTER DARK at Arena Stage at The Mead Center for American Theater
The older I get, the more ornery and unforgiving I become. When the American Pops Orchestra (APO), under the direction of Luke S. Frazier, played the opening bars of their Let's Misbehave: Cole Porter after Dark concert in the Fichandler at Arena Stage this past Saturday evening I was concerned.
Their opening medley of Porter tunes was not played together. This was bizarre to me because APO is comprised of professional musicians, including some I see playing all over town at various theaters like the talented Alex Tang on piano and Chris Chlumsky on basses (upright and electric). Perhaps it was due to lack of rehearsal time. Other problems included an unfortunate brass section consisting of only one trumpet, one French horn and one trombone. While I don't necessarily want to call out the trumpeter by name, all I'll say is sir, please don't play high ever again.
It wasn't all bad news on the instrumental front though. The best played orchestral selection was "Too Darn Hot" featuring David Sanders on guitar.
That being said, there was plenty to enjoy in this concert. Frazier casts well so his top-notch group of performers actually gave this evening some credibility.
I will start with DC's most lovable performer, Bobby Smith. Any man that can disrobe for "I'm a Gigolo" and then perform a duet of "Friendship" with the brilliant Liz Callaway is tops with me. Soft shoe, singer, and actor, Smith is the whole package.
Speaking of Liz Callaway, her renditions of "I Happen to Like New York" and her mashup of "So in Love" and "I Love You" were two of the classiest moments of the whole evening. I expect nothing less.
Local performer and American University graduate Vishal Vaidya can croon like nobody's business and this was demonstrated beautifully with "Begin the Beguine" and "Experiment."
Broadway performer and current Christine in The Phantom of the Opera, Ali Ewoldt held me captivated with her lovely sound on "In the Still of the Night" and on the up-tempo number, "It's De-Lovely."
Tap dancer Luke Hawkins wowed with tap routines to "Night and Day" and "From This Moment On."
I must say having pop singer Betty Who as part of the evening was one of the more 'interesting' choices of the night. Her pop renditions of "Somebody Loves You" and "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To" took awhile to get use to and unfortunately the orchestra played over her for two out of her three songs. Only with "Love for Sale" did I think that her voice was well suited to the material.
Director Kelly Crandall d'Amboise's minimal staging served the night well. I understand that Maestro Frazier is trying to attract a younger crowd to American Pops Orchestra concerts, but sometimes creating a concept can be counterproductive. In this case, the audience heard dating ads between sections of songs. I still don't know how the sophisticated songs of Porter fit with this, but what do I know.
Lastly, I must say that having a production photographer run up and down the aisles with the show going on was a distraction. Might I suggest these lovely things at Arena Stage called alleyways? They are just off stage and you have a clear shot with no audience distraction.
Let's Misbehave: Cole Porter after Dark featured some fine singing, but considering this was an orchestra concert, the instrumental ensemble needed to match the singers. This is particularly true if Maestro Frazier and the American Pops Orchestra wish to be taken seriously in a town that boasts one of the best orchestras in the country - the National Symphony Orchestra.
Running Time 75 minutes with no intermission.
Let's Misbehave: Cole Porter after Dark was a one night only engagement at Arena Stage's Fichandler space on May 19, 2018. For upcoming events from American Pops Orchestra, click here.