Sleep With Me is a black comedy with music set in a mock-Freudian version of 1930’s Hollywood where unconscious desires can manifest themselves in startling and unnerving ways. Songs from Shirley Temple’s movies are ripped out of their original context and surgically stitched into the corrupt adult environment of the movie industry.
In the depths of the Depression, Louis B. Mayer, at the height of his powers as the studio chief of MGM, desperately wants Shirley Temple for the role of Dorothy in the Wizard Of Oz. But Louis has not counted on Melody Mudd, a sixteen year old girl confused and frustrated by the new demands of womanhood, Beulah Mudd, her wily and determined stage mother and Billy Bone, Beulah’s boyfriend, a charming hillybilly and eccentric dancer.
Melody and Beulah are living in a Hollywood flophouse planning their assault on Hollywood. Melody works on her audition piece (Shirley Temple’s Early Bird, which she sings as a sad and mournful ballad.) Her mother sooths her to sleep with a lullaby, Shirley Temples’ Right Somebody To Love.
When an innocent and trusting Melody auditions for Louis, his unconscious desires betray him. Melody seems to get older and more seductive each time she reads for him. A provocative flirtation develops between Louis and Melody’s mother Beulah, who has her own ambitions for movie stardom. But Louis’ efforts to seduce her are stymied when the lights go out and he finds Melody in his bed instead of Beulah. Beulah’s boyfriend Billy Bone can’t get Melody off his mind either. Sex with Beulah gets very tricky for him when Melody keeps replacing her mother in his mind and in the backseat of his pickup truck. When Billy confronts Louis about his relationships with Melody and Beulah there is a strange sexual attraction between the two men that embarrasses them both and leads to a very unexpected person showing up on Louis’ casting couch. Each time she turns up in someone’s sexual fantasy, Melody becomes a little more savvy to her awakening sexual power.
As Louis’ casting difficulties intensify his thoughts turn again and again to Melody. She even invades his increasingly libinous dreams singing Early Bird as a striptease. Is he losing his mind? He puts himself in the hands of a headshrinker and pours out his thoughts and feelings about Hollywood and sexual temptation in a harrowing session on the couch. It seems he has succumbed to his own dark nature.
When Louis gives Melody a screentest, she takes charge of her life and her newfound understanding of her sexual attraction. She prepares a new song, Shirley Temple’s Oh My Goodness, which she sings as a duet with Billy. They sing and dance and can no longer resist their sexual attraction. Melody runs off with Billy so they can audition together for Louis. Beulah is deeply wounded by this betrayal at the hands of her lover and her daughter.
Louis is captivated by Melody’s audition. She prepares to sleep with him to seal the deal. Louis seems ready to give in to his worst sexually predatory instincts. But we discover that Louis is exhausted and chastened by his sexual excesses. Cleansed by analysis, he only wants Melody’s companionship. Melody is frustrated. She wants sex. She’s ready to be a woman now. But to accommodate Louis she cheers him up by singing Old Straw Hat from Heidi. He is thoroughly charmed. He loosens his tie, kicks off his shoes, takes off his jacket, lowers his suspenders and relaxes for the first time in years.
At that moment Beulah bursts in with her shotgun. She misinterprets Louis’ innocent friendship with Melody and guns Louis down. He dies singing his own version of Old Straw Hat, expressing his newfound understanding of life.
Melody and Beulah say goodbye and ask each other’s forgiveness. Waiting for the police to arrive, Beulah sits on Louis’ desk, skirt hiked up, smoking a cigarette and reloads her shotgun She is a true movie star now. She sings a sad, regretful reprise of The Right Somebody To Love. As she does so she positions the shotgun for one final blast.
In the end Melody is alone on stage with the dead bodies of Louis, Billy and Beulah. She picks up the phone and calls David O. Selznick, Louis’ right hand man, and offers him her services. Her transformation is complete.