Way back in Broadway’s pre-Oklahoma! days, pretty much all that was required to create a hit musical was a a dozen or so songs (preferably by Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, George & Ira Gershwin, or Rodgers & Hart) and some lively dance numbers (the kind that Busby Berkeley was creating both in New York and in Hollywood). As for plot, three-dimensional characters, or any trace of the dramatic, well who needed those so long as a show’s zany characters made you laugh?

 A 1930s hit that scored sky-high on all of these counts was Cole Porter’s ‘34 gem Anything Goes, the best and most popular of the bunch, so much so that it’s been revived three times on Broadway (most recently last year) along with becoming a favorite of regional theaters like Claremont’s Candlelight Pavilion, now presenting an all-around terrific production of the legendary Broadway smash.

“It’s De-Lovely,” “Friendship,” “I Get A Kick Out Of You,” “All Through The Night,” “You’re The Top,” “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” and the title song are just seven of the Porter classics featured in Anything Goes’ Broadway debut, with “Take Me Back To Manhattan” and “Let’s Misbehave” added for the 1962 revival version, which Candlelight is presenting under the assured direction of Douglas Austin.

As for storyline, it’s not that there isn’t one. There are, in fact, quite a few plot threads serving to tie the abovementioned songs together, though it’s still mostly about the music and dance.  Still, I can’t recall another musical with more madcap screwball, slapstick, and farcical fun and laughs—all of them aboard the S.S. America, bound for England from New York City.

 Among those on the America are rising young Wall Street whiz Billy Crocker (James McGrath), on board to drop off the passport his boss Elisha J. Whitney (John Lynd) has left behind; wealthy young debutante Hope Harcourt (Rachel Davis), traveling with her hoity-toity society mom Evangeline (Toni Lynd) and Mrs. Harcourt’s pet pooch (unbilled canine cameo); Hope’s English fiancé Sir Evelyn Oakleigh (Nick Tubbs), a David Niven sort who is fascinated by all things American, particularly our slang; and evangelist-turned-nightclub chantoozie Reno Sweeney (Stacy Huntington), accompanied by her quartet of showgirl Angels: Charity (Sue Murray), Chastity (Libby Snyder); Purity (Theresa Murray), and Virtue (Regina Laughlin).

 Also on board are Public Enemy Number 13, aka Moonface Martin (R.C. Sands), in disguise as a minister; his bleach-blonde girlie-girl Bonnie (Chelsea Baldree); and real-life man of the cloth Bishop Henry Dodson (Peter Scheuller) and his two Chinese converts Ching (Eric Badique) and Ling (Jairus Pecson).

When Billy saves Moonface’s hide by telling the FBI that Bishop Dodson is none other than the Public Enemy Number One they’ve come on board in search of, Moonface rewards Billy with a ticket and passport intended for said Public Enemy, who has deliberately missed the boat, and whom Billy will hereafter impersonate, that is when he’s not pretending to be a sailor or a flirtatious matron or a bamboo-hatted Chinese, all the while trying to convince Hope to ditch her fuddy-duddy of a fiancé for the young man she once shared a midnight kiss with in Central Park, i.e. our handsome hero Billy Crocker himself.

 Book writers Guy Bolton, P.G. Wodehouse, Anna Crouse, and Howard Lindsay need only the slightest of pretexts to introduce one Cole Porter hit after another. For example, the “kick” Reno declares she gets whenever she sees her friend and fan Billy launches her into “I Get A Kick Out Of You” not long after the duo have avowed their mutual admiration in “You’re The Top,” the two songs featuring some of the cleverest, wittiest, raciest Cole Porter lyrics ever. (“Some get a kick from cocaine. I’m sure that if I took even one sniff, that would bore me terrifically too.” “You’re romance. You’re the steppes of Russia. You’re the pants on a Roxy usher.”) Reno’s and Moonface’s offer to help Billy win Hope’s hand is all that’s necessary for the three of them to join voices in a salute to “Friendship.” (“When other friendships have been forgit, ours will still be it.”) And probably the only reason Anything Goes’ writers made Reno a former evangelist is to give her a reason to belt out the show-stopping gospel hymn “Blow, Gabriel, Blow.”

In the grand tradition of the best of British, French, and American farce, Anything Goes features wild-and-crazy situations, disguises and mistaken identity, high-brow and low-brow humor, physical comedy, and doors, lots and lots of doors, the better to allow characters to just barely miss each other as entrances and exits are executed with razor-sharp timing. (One of Anything Goes’ cleverest design conceits is to have a row of shipboard doors which swivel open and shut ad infinitum.)

All of this is told in classic 1930s screwball fashion, with a ballsy female lead, fast-paced repartee, and a plot revolving around the pursuit of love with an eye towards marriage, which just about every major character finds over the course of a week at sea.

 Naturally none of this can work without a tiptop cast of triple-threats, and in this Candlelight scores home run after home run, from Huntington’s pizzazzy powerhouse of a Reno to McGrath’s boyish charmer of a Billy to Sands’ comic gem of Moonface to Baldree’s deliciously squeaky-voiced bimbo of a Bonnie. Davis makes for a lovely, silver-voiced Hope, Tubbs is a hoot as slang-crazy Evelyn, and the Lynds give the more seasoned Elisha and Evangeline the panache of 1930s film greats Charles Coburn, Margaret Dumont, Jimmy Durante, and Marjorie Main.   Laughlin, the Murray sisters, and Snyder are as delectable a quartet of Angels as you could ask for.

Robert Parkison’s Captain, Scheuller’s Bishop, Janell Henry’s photographer and passenger, and Badique & Pecson’s Ching and Ling are terrific too, as are Dylan Pass and Matt Wiley, joining the above as assorted sailors and passengers in costume change after costume change.

 Choreographer extraordinaire John Vaughan gives us one show-stopping dance sequence after another, challenges which his talented young cast rise to meet with flying colors.

Director Austin doubles as music director, eliciting fine vocal performances all-around, and though the show’s Broadway-caliber orchestra is prerecorded, Candlelight Pavilion’s state-of-the-art sound system makes it sound as live as you can get without live musicians in the pit.

Jean-Yves Tessier provides the same expert lighting design he does for Equity productions at Musical Theatre West and 3-D Theatricals. Cliff and Kat Senior’s wigs give the women just the right 1930s dos. As for Theatre Company’s costumes and the production’s uncredited (and presumably rented) scenic design, they both look absolutely fabulous. Only a couple of mike problems marred the evening’s otherwise fine sound design.

Additional credit for this splendid Anything Goes goes out to owner/producer Ben D. Bollinger, general manager/vice president Michael Bollinger, acting producer Mindy Teuber, and artistic director John LaLonde, costume coordinator Jenny Wentworth, and stage manager Logan Grosjean. At the performance reviewed, Robert Reynolds provided some beautifully strummed pre-show guitar music.

Though the 1930s brought us other pre-Rodgers & Hammerstein treats like The Band Wagon, On Your Toes, Babes In Arms, and The Boys From Syracuse, none holds up nearly as well as Anything Goes, as Candlelight Pavilion’s 2012 revival makes abundantly clear. For songs, dances, and laughs galore, and all of them delivered by a tiptop cast of some of SoCal’s best non-Equity pros, Candlelight’s Anything Goes provides unbeatable entertainment for Inland Valley audiences. As for Angelinos willing to make the trek to Claremont, their gas mileage will be amply rewarded, even at today’s prices.

Candlelight Pavilion, 455 W. Foothill Blvd., Claremont

–Steven Stanley
October 6, 2012
Photo: Isaac James Creative

Comments are closed.