Metro Weekly

American Pops Orchestra toasts Cole Porter in “Let’s Misbehave”

Anything goes at the American Pops tribute to Cole Porter, featuring Liz Callaway and Betty Who

Liz Callaway

At the American Pops Orchestra show this Saturday, May 19, Liz Callaway might conjure up a whole host of animated screen characters — perhaps Odette from The Swan Princess, Jasmine from the sequels to Aladdin, or Kiara from The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride. Callaway was the singing voice for all of them.

“I think many people my age might not recognize her face or her name right away,” says Luke Frazier, the 32-year-old virtuoso behind American Pops. “But then when you start playing the Disney albums she recorded, [you realize] this is a woman who recorded music that we all grew up with.”

Frazier tapped Callaway as one of several vocalists to perform in APO’s new Cole Porter-themed show. “It’s not your typical Cole Porter concert,” says the conductor, who is aiming for “a much sexier, younger vibe” than a typical “old-fashioned…throwback to the ’30s.” In addition to new arrangements of the gay composer’s clever and catchy American Songbook standards, including “Anything Goes,” “You’re The Top,” and “My Funny Valentine,” the show will dole out ribald language from the world of online dating. Lifted directly from a variety of profiles — gay, straight, older, younger — “really funny” text will be read aloud by voiceover artists and projected onto large screens above Arena’s in-the-round Fichandler Stage. Kelly Crandall D’Amboise will direct “the almost theatrical” production, which features stars from Broadway and D.C., including Ali Ewoldt, Bobby Smith, and Vishal Vaidya.

And then there’s recording artist Betty Who, who will sing a mix of her hits rearranged for orchestra, as well as several Porter classics. “I think the audience is going to be pleasantly surprised,” Frazier says.

Callaway, a Tony-nominated Broadway veteran (Miss Saigon) and one of the nation’s leading cabaret artists, is performing with the Pops orchestra just days before she debuts A Hymn to Her, a new cabaret at New York’s Feinstein’s/54 Below, a “tribute to women songwriters [and] women I’ve really admired over the years who’ve helped make me who I am today.”

Despite the pressure, Callaway has relished the opportunity to visit Cole Porter’s music properly for the first time in her career. “It’s always a treat to get to sing with an orchestra, and so to sing these songs with an orchestra should be pretty exciting,” she says. “Cole Porter was a brilliant lyricist, there’s a lot of double entendres, and [it’s] just very smart, very witty, and yes, I’d say, adult…. It should be a wonderful concert.”

Let’s Misbehave: Cole Porter After Dark is Saturday, May 19, at 8 p.m. at Arena Stage, 1101 6th St. SW. Tickets are $20 to $110. Call 202-488-3300 or visit theamericanpops.org.

Doug Rule covers the arts, theater, music, food, nightlife and culture as contributing editor for Metro Weekly.