Anything Goes -- That’s for Sure -- in Cole Porter Musical at Goodspeed

By Amy J. Barry

Goodspeed’s Anything Goes is a high-energy, over the top revival of the Cole Porter classic that debuted on Broadway in 1934. And as silly as its premise and cartoon-ish as its characters, the diverse cast shakes things up and spiritedly showcases some famously familiar Porter tunes while dancing up a storm -- the most impressive aspect of this production.

The ambitious show directed by Daniel Goldstein features a big cast --15 actors and almost as big as an ensemble -- and a busy plot, which gets thrown at the audience all at once in the second scene, aboard a London-bound ocean liner departing from Manhattan, where all the musical’s action takes place.

To summarize and attempt to simplify: Young Wall Street broker Billy Crocker (David Harris) only has eyes for heiress Hope Harcourt (Hannah Florence), even though they’ve only met once before. Billy discovers Hope is aboard ship and engaged to Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Benjamin Howes). He stows away in order to win her over with his charm and get rid of her fuddy-duddy fiance, aided and abetted by his good friend nightclub singer Reno Sweeney (Rashidra Scott) and second-rate gangster "Moonface" Martin (Stephen DeRosa) who is disguised as a minister.

Misadventures, misunderstandings, romantic entanglements, and illegal activities ensue, along with nonstop drinking and way too many, not so funny, drinking jokes.

Strengths and weaknesses: Scott is fabulous as Sweeney. She plays the strong-willed, sensual woman with panache. Scott’s mellifluous vocals bring out the best in many of the show’s signature songs: “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “You’re the Top” (with Billy), “Blow Gabrielle Blow” and “Anything Goes” (with the company).

And maybe that’s why Florence’s Hope is so flat in comparison. She has little personality and no interest in anything but choosing whom to marry -- for money or love -- about which she seems ambivalent. It’s absurd that men would be fighting so passionately over her. But in Florence’s defense, that’s the annoyingly dull character the script calls for. Florence’s voice, on the other hand, is sweet and pure, and particularly shines in the “It’s De-Lovely” duet with Billy and in her heartfelt solo -- one of the show’s only serious songs -- “Goodbye, Little Dream, Goodbye.”

Crocker is a versatile Billy -- charming and debonair as well as slapstick silly as called for. He also has a pleasant voice highlighted in his one solo, “Easy to Love.”

Other roles worthy of mention include Howes as Evelyn, a ridiculously English snob and nice guy rolled into one and the winsome Kingsley Leggs as Elisha Whitney, Billy’s near-sighted banker boss, and Ivy League graduate (Yale, of course, for this production), which he never stops mentioning.

But DeRosa as Moonface Martin gives the show the electricity that helps you overlook its flaws -- if the audience enthusiasm for every line he utters is any indication.

DeRosa is fully immersed in his quirky role and the obvious fun he is having with the physical comedy, goofy disguises, and silly lyrics (in his solo “Be Like a Bluebird”) is infectious.

Back to the dancing: Choreographer Kelly Barclay has gone above and beyond with the timed-to-perfection dance numbers and fluid movement throughout the musical. But the “Anything Goes” tap routine at the close of Act I led by Scott as Reno is astonishing to witness. The dancers are essentially human metronomes never missing a beat, in utter sync with one another. And these are not simple moves. This dazzling performance requires tremendous energy and discipline and the whole company deserves credit for pulling it off so beautifully night after night.

Although there are no set changes besides a few interior cabin scenes, scenic designer Wilson Chin has captured the imposing feeling of a giant steel sailing ship on the small Goodspeed stage, which is no easy feat. A nice touch is extricating the pit orchestra from the pit and onto the ship’s upper deck where we can see as well as hear them perform under Michael O’Flaherty’s spot-on musical direction with orchestrations by Dan DeLange.

Ilona Somogyi’s lavish and lighthearted 1930s nautical-themed costumes nicely enhance the production, as does Brian Tovar’s mercurial lighting.

Performances of Anything Goes continue through June 16 at The Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam. For tickets call the box office at 860-873-8668 or online www.goodspeed.org.

This review appears in Shore Publishing community weeklies, and online at zip06.com


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