Anything Goes!, book by P.G. Wodehouse & Guy Bolton, Howard Lindsey and Russel Crouse, revised by Timothy Crouse & John Weidman. Music and lyrics by Cole Porter. Choreographed by Justin Boccitto. Directed by Alan M-L Wager. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
The Title Song-Act One Finale; photo: provided
". . .so worth the yearning for!"
Amanda Lea Lavergne; photo: provided
Let me just say, at the start, that with the exception of "Kiss Me, Kate" Cole Porter never wrote a finer, more memorable and musical score than the one he composed for "Anything Goes!" currently on stage at the Sharon Playhouse in Sharon, Connecticut. With several different books, and a few interpolated songs, this show has endured for nearly 75 years and has never felt old, or used, or unwelcome. The show made an indelible star out of Ethel Merman in the role of nightclub evangelist Reno Sweeney (after her show-stopping part in the Gershwin musical, Girl Crazy). It's been played by many actresses since, but never as convincingly as it is here by Amanda Lea Lavergne. If you want to see a star, get down to Sharon and see this girl perform.
She does the Merman bit of singing her choruses and tripping the light fantastic offstage to let the chorus dance their feet off and hearts out, then returns to sing the final chorus, do a buck and wing, and bring down the house. Unlike the Merm she also dances wonderfully well and makes the romance of the show comic and the comedy romantic. Merman depended on her overwhelming personality and her incredible vocal strengths to hold the stage but Lavergne is a more complete package. She can act, do comedy, sing and dance and take on the romantic clichés as though they were newly wrought.
She is ably supported by a group of young players who give professional performances that are amazing. As Billy Crocker, the juvenile (or romantic hero) of the show Caleb Albert justifies his casting, singing in a lyric tenor, acting in a lyric manner and generally amplifying the lyric sense of "You're the Top."
As his lady-love, Hope Harcourt, Amara Haaksman looks the part, sings the part and with Albert, dances the part beautifully. They duet wonderfully in Porter's "All Through the Night," one of his most amiable love songs. Her mother is nicely performed by Emily Soell whose own lovelife is illuminated by Billy's boss, Elisha Whitney, played by Bill Morris in a perfectly blustery manner.
Hope's fiance Sir Evelyn Oakleigh, a British lord, is played with pompous gusto by Edward Miskie. Younger than the usual Evelyn, he makes the character work amiably, especially in his scenes with Lavergne's Reno which grow from seduction to romance in short order.
The ensemble of singers and dancers are all lovely and talented and so enthusiastic in their roles, they were a pleasure to watch and listen to as they cavorted around Jason Myron Wright's shipboard sets. Keith Schneider's divine costumes adorned the company and Zach Pizza's lighting did just what the show required.
Caleb Albert, Amara Haaksman; photo provided
Paul Kreppel, Amanda Lea Lavergne; photo: provided
Holding his comic and musical own as Moonface Martin was the third Actors Equity member in the company, Paul Kreppel (Lavergne and Miskie are the other two). His public enemy #13 was a delight alongside #1s girlfriend Erma played by Seana Nicol. When he and Lavergne takes the stage to sing the interpolated song "Friendship" sarcasm and smallness grow to exceptional size and the moment is delicious, just what a 1930s show should be.
You might say this is a large sheet cake with more icing than cake about it. The dance numbers, choreographed by Justin Boccitto, are marvelous and varied. The small orchestra conducted by Ben Kiley plays very well and the scenes are directed with a precision that made the shipboard world seem very solid and stationery. Wager has made a perfect entry into the regional summer theater market with this show and the neighborhood should rejoice.
Anything Goes! plays at the Sharon Playhouse, 49 Amenia Road, Sharon, CT through July 1. For information and tickets go to sharonplayhouse.org or call the box office at 860-364-7469, ext. 201.