Theatre Review: ‘Anything Goes’ at Sharon Playhouse is irresistible funMore Info
Book by P.G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton, Howard Lindsey and Russell Crouse, revised by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman
Music and lyrics by Cole Porter
Choreographed by Justin Boccitto
Directed by Alan M-L Wager
A leading lady’s, sparkling star-turn and good old-fashioned show-biz tap dance make Sharon Playhouse’s ANYTHING GOES, chock-a-block with wonderful songs by the great American songmaster Cole Porter, irresistible fun. First staged in 1934 with the incomparable Ethel Merman as evangelist turned cabaret singer Reno Sweeney, Sharon presents the version of the book written for the successful 1987 Lincoln Center revival starring Patti Lupone. At the Sharon Playhouse, the song-and-dance force Amanda Lea LaVergne creates her own Reno, with impressive vocal range and astonishing dance athleticism, that recalls the pluck of a feisty Debbie Reynolds and the savvy spunk of Ginger Rogers.
The story, which they don’t write any more except as parody, is a goofy tale of star-crossed lovers and crisscrossed identities aboard an ocean liner London-bound from New York. Reno is surprised to find on ship Billy Crocker for whom she carries a torch but who’s in love with heiress Hope Harcourt engaged to the fussy English Lord Evelyn Oakleigh. The manifest of oddballs includes the hapless gangster Moonface Martin and his flirtatious moll Erma, Billy’s overstuffed, Yale-educated investor employer Elisha Whitney, Hope’s overbearing aristo-wannabe mother, a kooky ship Captain, and a pair of befuddled Chinamen. Mayhem ensues when Billy is arrested by G-Men, who mistake him as the mobster on board.
It’s madcap bubbly. If the book seems cornball or out-of-date, listen-up for delicious oomph in the naughty, sexual double-entendre that peppers the dialogue. (Don’t worry Mom and Pop. It’ll go over the kids’ heads.) And if the pacing seems sometimes thin on effervescence, just wait until LaVergne’s Sweeney arrives in the scene. It’s like popping a bottle of champagne whether she’s solo in “I Get a Kick Out of You,” in duet with Billy in “You’re the Top” or with Moonface in “Friendship” or leading the ensemble in big, flashy production numbers “Anything Goes” which closes the first act and “Blow Gabriel Blow” which opens the second.
Director Alan M-L Wager has assembled a large, impressive cast of 27, including choreographer Justin Boccito’s beaming, youthful chorus. As Billy, Caleb Albert has a tenor which obliges nicely in the romantic solo ballad “Easy to Love” and in the duet “It’s DeLovely” with the especially clear voice of Amara Haaksman as Hope. Seana Nicol as Erma nails the 11 o’clock number “Buddie Beware” in a very challenging, very physical dance routine with four sailor admirers. Seasoned veteran Paul Kreppel excels as mobster Moonface Martin.
In “The Gypsy in Me” Edward Miskie’s foppish Lord Oakleigh camps it up too much for LaVergne’s street-smart Sweeney in the end to be attracted to. But, so what? ANYTHING GOES is a lark. And LaVergne belting out “Blow Gabriel Blow” backed-up with an exuberant tap-dancing ensemble pounding the wooden boards in the old Sharon barn is worth the ticket price alone.
Anything Goes plays at the Sharon Playhouse, 49 Amenia Road, Sharon, Connecticut, through Sunday, July 1. For information and tickets, see the Berkshire Edge calendar, go to sharonplayhouse.org or call the box office at (860) 364-7469 x201.