“Anything Goes” at Goodspeed

By Marlene S. Gaylinn

The jolly S.S. American, now a fully integrated ship of passengers and crew, is docked at Goodspeed Opera House and taking its audience’s back to the “Anything Goes” period of the 1930’s. It’s hard to believe that this is the first time Goodspeed Musicals produced this Cole Porter classic and that its run was extended before the show officially opened. The original show made its Broadway debut in 1935 starring Ethel Merman as Reno, William Gaxton as Billy, and Victor Moor as Moonface. It was an instant success and was revised several times with more Cole Porter hits added. Its advanced popularity at Goodspeed is most likely due to the show’s 2011 revival at the Stephen Soundheim Theatre, which was heavily advertised on TV, and resulted in three Tony Awards.

As its title indicates, this is a show where anything goes for a laugh -- even it’s as vulgar as passing gas. Basically, the crazy plot centers on a loud, nightclub singer, “Reno” (Rashidra Scott and two stowaways: a love-struck “Billy” (David Harris), and Public Enemy No. 13, “Moonface” (Steven DeRosa). The men’s deceptive encounters with the ship’s crew and crazy entanglements with their love interests, keeps the lively action going.

It’s very hard to be critical when the audience is so overwhelmingly enthusiastic about the numerous hit songs and lively, tap-dancing at Goodspeed. However, having seen Ethel Merman belt out these Cole Porter songs during her later years, its very hard to picture anyone else singing them. Never the less, I will have to admit that Scott (Reno) does a very credible job as she sings with gusto, and tap-dances her way through the entire production.

Unfortunately, at the performance we attended, David Harris’s fluctuating tone of voice seemed strained. This uneven elocution, distracted from his character “Billy.” The individual characters of his girlfriend, “Hope” (Hannah Florence) and Moonface’s partner “Erma,” (Desiree Davar) also need to be more vivid.

On the other hand, Stephen DeRosa, as the inept gangster, “Moonface,” milks everything he can out of his role and definitely steals the limelight. We dare you to take your eyes off him as he pulls out every shtick from the ancient book of comedy. Playing supporting roles, we also enjoyed Patrick Richwood as the ship’s bewildered “Purser,” and Denise Lute as “Mrs. Harcourt” -- the social climbing mother of “Hope” and “Trixie” the dog.

Best of all, it’s the songs and spectacular dancing that really wows the Goodspeed audience and makes this show a big success. Kelli Barclay (Connecticut Critics Circle Award winner) is responsible for the choreography. Wilson Chin designed a ship whose multiple decks allow adequate space for the performers, including the band, directed by Michael O’Flaherty. Daniel Goldstein directs this lively, full-scale production.

Plays through: June 16 Tickets: 860-873-8668

This review appears in “ON CT & NY THEATRE” May/2016



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