Live Musical Theatre: “Anything Goes” at the Ahmanson Theatre

By Jane Rosenberg

Los Angeles, CA.  Tired of the annual parade of Nutcrackers and Messiahs?  Looking for musical entertainment that’s sophisticated, witty, and wall-to-wall fun?  Then pack your steamer trunk and hop on board Cole Porter’s cruise ship sailing for nineteen more performances (including matinees) at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles.  It’s the Roundabout Theatre’s 1987 Tony award-winning production of Anything Goes, and it is chock-full of Porter’s best: “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “You’re the Top,” “De-Lovely,” and, of course, “Anything Goes.” Superbly choreographed and directed by Kathleen Marshall, with terrific sets by Derek McLane, and costumes by Martin Pakledinaz, this production sparkles from top to bottom.

Star-crossed love and mistaken identity aboard the luxury liner, the S.S. American, generate the plot. Passengers include a gorgeous nightclub owner and singer, a middle-aged fortune hunter, a gangster masquerading as a priest and an ordinary guy masquerading as a gangster, a sexy gun-moll who has a weakness for sailors, a rich, drunken stockbroker, a debutante, and a goofy English lord.  Also on deck are a missionary and a pair of Chinese converts, and though their roles have been softened from the 1934 original, there is still some discomfort in seeing old stereotypes dragged out.

The music, originally orchestrated by Michael Gibson with additional orchestrations by Bill Elliott, was played to blissful effect under the baton of Jay Alger.  And the talent assembled for this romp into the brilliant mind of Cole Porter (not to mention P.G. Wodehouse who had a hand in the original book) was stellar.

As Reno Sweeny, the “seen it all” nightclub owner and heroine of the piece, Rachel York, with her potent and beautifully modulated voice, delivered the goods.  Seems like there’s nothing she can’t do, whether tap dancing with the cast, belting out the mock gospel song, “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” or delivering her knowing lines with spot-on comic timing – albeit a bit heavy on the Mae West imitation.  Erich Bergen played Billy Crocker, the lovesick stowaway, who pines for the debutante, Hope Harcourt. In another terrific performance, Bergen managed the singing, dancing, and comedy with a relaxed charm, every inch a Cole Porter leading man.

Other cast members were equally talented, and the strength of the whole ensemble was that they managed to elevate their roles beyond their hilarious stock characters, to deliver a madcap ménage of quirky personalities.  The only flat performance was Alex Finke as Hope.  She possessed a pleasing voice but seemed to lack bounce and individuality.  Edward Staudenmayer was a knockout as the effete Lord Evelyn.  Like a refugee from a Monty Python skit, and with Michael Palin-esque charisma, Staudenmayer transitioned from uptight Englishman to lust ridden suitor while cavorting like a bullfighter in the number “The Gypsy in Me.”

As for the corps of passengers, crew, and Reno’s sexy quartet of “angels,” they made every minute a party – in particular the sailors who provided the glowing backdrop on which all the action was painted.

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Jane Rosenberg is the author and illustrator of  SING ME A STORY: The Metropolitan Opera’s Book of Opera Stories for ChildrenJane is also the author and illustrator of DANCE ME A STORY: Twelve Tales of the Classic Ballets.

To read more iRoM reviews by Jane Rosenberg click HERE.

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