Anything Goes,Book by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman, based on the book by Guy Bolton, P.G. Wodehouse, Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse. Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter. Choregraphy by Kelli Barclay. Directed by Daniel Goldstein.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
Rashidra Scott and company sing "Blow, Gabriel, Blow"; photo: Diane Sobolewski
". . .so, climb up that mountain top"
Every once in a while you have the opportunity to revisit this classic in some form or other. There are at least four different versions of the show, originally presented on Broadway in 1934 starring a young Ethel Merman who achieved complete stardom in the role of Reno Sweeney, created for her by the authors of the show. In the Goodspeed tradition all the versions I have seen in various theaters feature songs written by Cole Porter for a half dozen or so other shows interpolated into this superb piece of theatrical writing. They vary from edition to edition, but this time around the score seems to have been born for these characters and this play about a trans-Atlantic crossing on a beautiful and glamorous ship.
The original show ran during the Depression for 420 performances and Merman went to Hollywood to put her performance on film playing opposite mega-movie star Bing Crosby (who repeated his role twenty years later opposite Mitzi Gaynor who had just played Merman's daughter in "There's No Business Like Show Business" which says it all if you think about it).
The story is a simple one. Reno Sweeney, Broadway's biggest Cabaret Evangelist, is sailing for England. On the same ship is Hope Harcourt and her mother and the stuffy Brit Hope is hoping to marry, Lord Evelyn Oakleigh. Also aboard is Public Enemy #13, Public Enemy #1 and his mistress, a pair of Chinese Catholic converts and young Billy Crocker who has stowed away to be close to Hope, whom he loves. Billy's boss is also aboard. There are five nights on the trip so there is plenty of time for confusion, obfuscation and fun. Especially with the songs by Cole Porter.
Under the direction of Daniel Goldstein a truly wonderful troupe of musical actors bring all of this to delicious life. Chief among them is Rashidra Scott playing Reno. On loan for this run from the Broadway show "Beautiful: The Carole King Musical" - a show she is slated to return to after this show closes, Scott is not what is expected. Unlike Merman, and her successors, Scott is not a big belt, blow-you-away singer. She is a classy vocalist with a bluesy touch who takes the songs and makes them her very own. Every time she started a song I wondered if she would have the range and every time she proved my worries to be foolish and unnecessary. Reno is reborn in Scott's image and the new baby is beautiful. She delivers in the comedy as well as in the drama of the piece and her dancing is as big a surprise as her voice. This is a complete package in a role that gives her plenty of opportunities to unwrap the content with aplomb. Spoiler Alert: At the start of it all she has a crush on Billy Crocker.
Billy is played by David Harris. He is tall, commanding and very certain in every gesture and every visible decision. Not as good a singer as Scott he still pulls off the songs very well, even the interpolated "Easy to Love" which Porter wrote for a non-singing Jimmy Stewart and "It's De-Lovely" originally sung by Bob Hope in yet another Porter show. As the romantic lead of this show he is also blessed with opportunities for nearly slapstick comedy as he dons one disguise after another and is finally mistaken for the biggest criminal in America. It is a very good performance by a very talented actor.
Billy's obsession is Hope Harcourt played by Hannah Florence. Not the prettiest ingenue she looks lovely in 1930s clothes and hairstyle, sings divinely and dances when she must. She possesses a quality of vulnerability that allows her to make Hope both transparent and solid at the same time. It becomes apparent why the hero loves her. Florence delivers solidly in this part.
Billy's comedy is sparked by two of the most delicous actors on this stage, Stephen DeRosa as Moonface Martin, Public Enemy #13 and Desiree Davar as the lascivious Erma. DeRosa could peel a banana and make it funny. In this role he has lines that make you scream with laughter and his performance of "Be Like the Bluebird" redefines that classic of comic writing. Davar is his equal, vamping sailors left and right, sizing up Billy, moving and shaking in a shipboard sort of way. When she finally gets a song, "Buddie, Beware" near the end of the second act it is as though this was the number you came to hear.
The company is so very accomplished and so seemingly perfect in their roles. Denise Lute as Hope's mother is lightly comic and slightly divine. Benjamin Howes is a wonderful actor or recreates the role of Evelyn to perfection. Patrick Richwood is a deliciously delirious purser. Jay Aubrey Jones as the Captain brings all sorts of sense to the play and his short solo at the top of Act Two is definitely too short. Kingsley Leggs as Billy's boss, Mr. Whitney, is funny where he should be and is the voice of the Depression when he has to be.
The choreography and direction work hand-in-glove. Kelli Barclay has devised some of the finest tap routines I've seen in years and Daniel Goldstein clearly has a strong handle to manipulate in this show. There wasn't a single moment that didn't feel absolutely honest.
Wilson Chin's sets are excellent. Ilona Somogyi's costume design brings the era to life and the people in the clothes to their fashionable best. Brian Tovar has lit the postage-stamp stage to perfection. He is wonderful at defining time of day and never leaves us squinting to see anything. It's nice to see a well-trained dog and William Berloni's Trixie is a delight in the pivotal role of Cheeky.
"Anything Goes" is a favorite show of mine and the trip to East Haddam, to the Goodspeed, proves once and for all that excellent theater is worth the drive. I cannot say more than this about Connecticut's gift to musical theater lovers in the region. Get in the car and sing your way along the road to Anything Goes.
Hannah Florence and David Harris; photo: Diane Sobolewski
Stephen DeRosa, David Harris, Desiree Davar; photo: Diane Sobolewski
Jay Aubrey Jones and Patrick Richwood; photo: Diane Sobolewski
Anything Goes plays through June 16 at The Goodspeed, 6 Main Street, East Haddam, CT. For information and tickets call the box office at 860-873-8668 or go on line to goodspeed.org.