By Karen Isaacs
Cole Porter’s classic Anything Goes, now at Goodspeed in East Haddam through June 16, even in its original version featured so many classic songs and so much fun that it has been revived numerous times. That it had never made it to Goodspeed is somewhat surprising.
A 1962 off-Broadway revival of the show brought attention once again to it; that production started the trend of interpolating classic Porter songs from other musicals. It was the 1987 revival at Lincoln Center that put the show on the theatrical map. It featured a revised book, re-ordered songs and starred Patti LuPone and Howard McGillan. From then on, it has had multiple worldwide productions. In 2011, Sutton Foster won a Tony for starring in the most recent revival that also featured Joel Grey.
All of these outstanding productions, and the memories from either seeing them live (as I saw the 2011 revival) or hearing them on CD, sets a very high standard for any production. Goodspeed also has reputation for producing excellent work, so it too causes an audience to expect an almost perfect production.
I wish I could say that this production meets these expectations. It is professional, overall well sung, danced, acted, and yet, it falls short.
It is the type of production that audiences will enjoy, but those more knowledgeable will find numerous flaws with it; not enough to spoil the experience, but to leave them wishing it were better.
The story is a typical silly plot of the 1930s. Aboard a ship sailing to England are a variety of passengers: Reno Sweeney, a nightclub evangelist; Billy Crocker a young Wall Street assistant; Elisha J. Whitney – an aging Yale alumni and millionaire who employs Billy; a debutante – Hope Harcourt; her mother; her fiancé, Lord Evelyn Oakleigh; and for the comedy an on-the-lam criminal (Public Enemy #13) Moonface Martin and man-loving Erma, the girlfriend of Snake Eyes Johnson, Public Enemy #1 who has gotten left ashore.
The complications include Billy stowing away and masquerading as Snake Eyes and is arrested:; ruses to keep Elisha from knowing Billy is on board (he was supposed to go to Wall Street and sell some shares); Billy pursuing Hope who is only marrying Evelyn because her mother insists they need the money; Reno attracted to first Billy and then Evelyn. In fact, the complications are on-going.
But in reality the plot is there for humor, exposition and to keep the songs coming. From the original show these include the title song, “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” “I Get a Kick Out of You,” and “All Through the Night.” The current production has added (as did the most recent revivals) such Porter classics as “You’re the Top,” “Easy to Love,” “Friendship,” “It’s De-Lovely,” and “Goodbye, Little Dream, Goodbye.”
Rashidra Scott is a terrific Reno Sweeney. She sings, dances and carries the comedy well. This is a show that demands a dynamite leading lady and Scott delivers. David Harris plays Billy with the right amount of brash youth, mooning young love and cunning. Hannah Florence is the debutante who loves Billy but is following her mother’s insistence of the marriage to the English lord due to diminishing family wealth. Again, she sings nicely but the chemistry between the two is lacking. Are these characters truly attracted to each other? I didn’t believe it.
While individual performances are good, the balance of the show seems off and chemistry among the cast members is also missing.
The balance issue is most obvious with Stephen DeRosa as Moonface Martin. DeRosa is a
gifted comic actor but here he hijacks the show. Too often, when your attention should be on another major character, he has a bit of business that diverts your eyes. Often the bits aren’t that funny, as in a couple references to Connecticut towns in the duet “Friendship” with Reno. Director Daniel Goldstein needed to rein him in. Yet he scores with his one solo number “Be Like the Bluebird”.
No other supporting cast member overdoes it to the extent DeRosa does. The other major comic role is that of the English Lord, Sir Evelyn Oakleigh. Benjamin Howes is fine and handles his one song, “The Gypsy in Me” effectively.
With the more minor characters I have some quibbles in the casting or interpretation. Why is it necessary for the purser to be played as such a gay stereotype? Why is Elisha J. Whitney, the alcoholic, Yale grad played with a southern drawl? I have to admit that the outstanding performance by John McMartin as Whitney in the last revival has set a high standard.
Even the scenic design – the deck of a ship – by Wilson Chin – seemed to cause problems. First, though it may be an optical illusion, that the small Goodspeed playing area was even less deep than usual. The placement of the orchestra on the top deck limited the area up there that could be used.
The costumes by Ilona Somogyi were terrific. The lighting by Brian Tovar and the sound by Jay Hilton were also excellent.
Kelli Barclay choreographed the show which always features terrific tap numbers in the title tune and “Blow, Gabriel, Blow.” I do wish there had been one or two more women in the chorus.
Director Daniel Goldstein does a good job yet some of his decisions kept this from being the “top” show you would like it to be.
Anything Goes is at Goodspeed in East Haddam through June 16. For tickets contact goodspeed.org or call 860-873-8668.