We meet Tracy Lord’s harried mother (throwing a wedding for five hundred will do that to you), Tracy’s grumpily precious younger sister, Dinah (she’s grumpy because Tracy is marrying George Kittredge, the dullest man on earth), and, finally, the ecstatic bride-to-be, society’s darling, Tracy Lord herself (Ridin’ High
). But at breakfast, moments after Tracy reminds absent-minded Uncle Willie (whose house borders their estate) that You’re Throwing a Ball Tonight
, her good mood ends: Dexter, her despised first husband (and Dinah’s favorite person in the world), has come back! What’s more he’s sailed back in “the True Love” – a boat that holds only painful memories for Tracy, and anchored it right off shore, by his house (Dexter is also their neighbor).
Now Dexter tells Tracy and her family something that really stuns them. A pair of reporters for a scandal magazine called Spy, Mike Connor and Liz Imbrie, will be attending Tracy’s wedding, masquerading as guests; in fact, they should be arriving any moment. Dexter invited them; it was the only way he could stop Spy from publishing an expose of Tracy’s father’s (Seth’s) affair with dancer Tina Mara. When Dexter asks where Seth is, Tracy tells him Mother kicked him out. And he’s not invited to the wedding either. Incensed by the indignity of having reporters in her house, Tracy rushes off to plot mischief, her mother races after her, worried, leaving Dinah with Dexter, whom she assumes has really come to steal Tracy away from George. But Dexter insists he hasn’t and she rushes off distraught. So he rushes after her, hoping to make amends (Little One
Mike Connor and Liz Imbrie arrive (Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
) Tracy and Dinah greet them with grotesque affectation, then sing a peculiar version of I Love Paris
, after which Dinah leaves and Tracy interrogates them witheringly (a famous Barry scene). Afterwards, in the pavilion for cocktails, Tracy, fearing the reporters may guess the true reason her father isn’t there, introduces Uncle Willie as if he were her father. Then, when her actual father arrives, Tracy introduces him as Uncle Willie. Later, with George and Dexter joining the mayhem, Uncle Willie (as Seth) sings She’s Got That Thing
in response to Mike’s totally innocent question about the secret of Tina Mara’s allure. After which they all go to lunch.
Later, Tracy’s world unravels even more. It happens by the pool. Dexter is the culprit, mercilessly stripping away her illusions of perfection. By act’s end she is alone and confused- about George (suddenly he seems so pompous), about Mike (he suddenly seems so sweet), about her father (how can Mother even think of forgiving him?) Staring out at “the True Love,” she remembers her blissful honeymoon cruise with Dexter on that very yacht, conjures up that Dexter of old, and, along with him, sings True Love
. When Mike enters to remind her about Uncle Willie’s party (guests are already arriving) the memory fades. Mike leaves. Tracy picks up a bottle of champagne – a drink she’s sworn off, since (according to Dexter) she tends to do wildly uncharacteristic things when she drinks it – and starts gulping it down.
When ACT TWO opens we’re at Uncle Willie’s house, it’s 4 a.m. and the last guest has gone home. Tracy won’t stand for it! Guzzling champagne as if there were no tomorrow, she insists – despite George’s protests – that the party must go on, which at this point means dancing with the staff (Let’s Misbehave). George storms out, mortified. Dinah, thrilled, races off to find Dexter. Tracy, quickly wearing out the staff, dances off with Mike, leaving Liz to handle lecherous Uncle Willie, whom she still believes is Seth (I’m Getting Myself Ready for You).
At Dexter’s house, Dexter, packing to leave, sings It Was Just One of Those Things
. Dinah rushes in, sees what he’s planning and calls him a coward. When he says there’s nothing he can do, so why stay on, three magic words change his mind: “She’s drinking champagne.”
Back at Uncle Willie’s, the staff is in the kitchen when Tracy runs in, hears George and hides (Well, Did You Evah?). Enter George. The staff covers. Exit George. Enter Liz, who hides with Tracy. Enter Uncle Willie. Again, the staff covers. Exit Willie. Tracy and Liz emerge. Thinking Uncle Willie is returning, Liz flees. But it’s George who comes back. Reluctantly, Tracy leaves with him. Neither of them notices Mike, clutching a champagne bottle, following George.
Outside, George reminds Tracy they’ve a rather big day tomorrow, or has she forgotten? She looks puzzled. Mike arrives. “Well, I certainly haven’t forgotten.” George tells her he’s going to assume this behavior won’t happen again, and stalks off. Mike tells Tracy she can’t marry that guy; he’s not good enough for her. Outraged, she calls him a snob. In response, he sings You’re Sensational
, then kisses her. “Golly,” she says. (In the distance, revelers sing Let’s Misbehave
.) She asks if he’d like to go for a swim. He says he doesn’t have a suit. She says, “You won’t need one; Dexter and I always swam after parties.” And with that, she dashes off, Mike, champagne bottle in hand, racing after her.
Dexter and Dinah arrive to see Mike chasing Tracy through the woods, Tracy’s father chasing his wife, and Uncle Willie chasing Liz. Along the way, Dexter and Uncle Willie have a heart-to-heart (Say It with Gin). Finally, Mike catches up to Tracy at the pool (It’s All Right with Me).
Dexter, sitting on a patio near the pool, sees Liz wander by. Yes, he does know where Mike is. A sudden splashing is heard. Liz handles it well (He’s a Right Guy). Feeling for Liz, he explains about the Seth/Uncle Willie charade and the blackmail threat against the real Seth that underlies it all. Liz, incensed, says she’ll handle it and leaves. Then George shows up looking for Tracy. A moment later, Mike enters carrying Tracy, who’s feeling no pain and wearing only a robe. George is stunned. Mike says, “Seems the moment she hit the water, the champagne hit her.” Dexter stops George from punching Mike, gets Mike to take Tracy to her room, then reassures George in a way that only increases George’s worst suspicions.
The next morning, Tracy has a vague memory of being in a pool last night with someone other than George, as George can’t swim. When Mike enters, she realizes who it was, decides she obviously made love to him and therefore all is over. But of course it isn’t, and by the end George is gone, Tracy’s mother and father have mended things, the blackmail threat is removed, Mike’s realized Liz means more to him than he’d ever imagined, and Tracy, that it’s Dexter she loves and has always loved. With a wedding set but no bridegroom in sight, Dexter volunteers. Is he sure? Samantha shows he is and a reprise of True Love that this time it’s going to last. Dinah seems especially pleased. Like Puck, she’s had a hand in it all.