Cole Porter’s rollicking ‘Anything Goes’ at Goodspeed Musicals in East Haddam CT

 By Tony Schillaci and Don Church

Tony-award winning Goodspeed Musicals opens the season with Cole Porter’s high-spirited Anything Goes freshly updated for modern audiences. It runs through June 16 at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, CT.

The story is driven by brassy nightclub singer Reno Sweeney (played by Rashidra Scott - who fills the stage with her glorious presence, boundless energy, dazzling dancing and big Broadway voice). Clueless about Reno’s affection for him is stock-broker and starry-eyed stowaway Billy Crocker (actor/singer David Harris - the quintessentially handsome and talented leading man.) The show gets off to a rousing start as these old acquaintances run into each other in a bar just before embarking on a transatlantic crossing on board the SS American. He still doesn’t get it that Reno has a crush on him when she suddenly sings “I Get a Kick Out of You.”

The plot continues to merrily roll along at just the right pace as the passengers and crew -- from the low-lifers of the earth to real and wanna-be aristocrats -- enthusiastically sing, dance and incite waves of intrigue and laughter aboard the luxury liner. The show is chock full of Cole Porter’s celebrated music and lyrics: "You're the Top," "It's De-Lovely," "Blow, Gabriel, Blow," “Anything Goes,” and twelve more of his sophisticated, witty tunes and lilting romantic songs.

The passenger list includes vivacious Reno (the aforementioned sensational Rashida Scott); gangster Moonface Martin (who is brought to life by comic actor Stephen DeRosa in a wacky performance that ‘out-Grouchos’ Groucho); Moonface's gun-moll Erma (played appropriately loudly and broadly by Desiree Davar) who is a dame-at-sea but she ain't no lady; society snob Mrs. Wadsworth (who is given just enough snoot by Denise Lute) whose debutante daughter Hope (beautifully sung by Hannah Florence) is the real object of Billy’s affection; Elisha J. Whitney (a martini-soaked zillionaire played with bombastic charm by Kingsley Leggs); Lord Evelyn (a stiff-upper-lip British noble who fractures American slang and finally comes out of his shell) played by funny-man Benjamin Howes; and a Purser and Captain (Patrick Richwood and Jay Aubrey Jones) who don’t miss a comedic beat as they try to keep this potpourri of maniacs from scuttling the ship.

These principle performers have impressive Broadway, national tour, and regional theater credits that you can read in the Goodspeed playbill when you see the show.
They are ably joined by a multi-talented all-singing, all dancing, all always-in-the-moment ensemble: Brittany Bohn (Goodspeed’s Mame) -on opening night her role was played by Kelly Sheehan, Sy Chounchaisit , Alison Jantzie (Broadway’s Gigi), Jay Aubrey Jones (Broadway’s How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and Cats), John Ramsey (an unsung hero of this Anything Goes production who convincingly plays many character parts with polished acting skill), Christopher Shin as Luke from China (Broadway’s Mary Poppins), Karilyn Surratt (a Radio City Christmas Spectacular Rockette and The Merry Widow at The Metropolitan Opera), Sam Tanabe as John from China (Broadway’s Allegiance), James Tolbert , Edward Tolve (Goodspeed 2012 Festival of New Musicals’ Harmony, Kansas) and dance captain John T. Wolfe (Goodspeed’s A Wonderful Life, Irving Berlin's Holiday Inn and Mame). The swings are Cooper Taggard and Chiara Trentalange. And, last but not least, is the carry-on part of Cheeky played by a tiny pooch named Trixie - not to be confused with Sandy from Goodspeed's famous Annie.

This is the best-ever production we have seen of Anything Goes. It’s the result of a collaboration among top-ranked theater professionals: Goodspeed Musicals’ executive director, Michael Gennaro; director, Daniel Goldstein; a new book* by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman; choreographer, Kelli Barclay (who has the cast tap-tap-tapping across the Goodspeed stage with such excitement that it will take your breath away); set designer, Wilson Chin; costume designer Ilona Somogyi; lighting designer, Brian Tovar; sound designer, Jay Hilton (his 31st season at Goodspeed); Michael O’Flaherty, in his 25th season as Goodspeed’s Resident Music Director; assistant music director; William J. Thomas - who led the orchestra at the opening night performance; orchestrations by Dan DeLange and a mere hand-full of seven versatile musicians that deliver the sound of a great big Broadway orchestra; and casting by SH Entertainment. *The original book was written by the renowned Guy Bolton, P.G. Wodehouse, Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse in 1934.

Curtain times to get 'all aboard the SS American' are Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 7:30 p.m. (with select performances at 2:00 p.m.), Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. (with select performances at 6:30 p.m.). $15. student tickets with a valid school ID beginning at 10 am on any Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday, Saturday, or Sunday for that evening's performance. (As of this review, a 'by popular demand' extra matinee performance has been added on Tuesday June 7th at 2:00 p.m.)

Regular tickets are available through the box office (860-873-8668), seven days a week and online at goodspeed.org. For show highlights, exclusive photos, special events and more, go to www.goodspeed.org and visit the theater on Facebook, Twitter @goodspeedmusicl, Instagram and YouTube.

Published by Examiner.com on April 30, 2016

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