Reno Sweeney once again fires up the congregation with revivalist fervor (and some of the best tunes ever written) as Glendale Centre Theatre offers audiences its exhilarating revival of the 1930s Cole Porter classic Anything Goes, once again demonstrating GCT’s expertise at taking great big Broadway musicals and giving them intimate in-the-round pizzazz.
Like its fellow pre-Oklahoma! hits, Anything Goes forgoes three-dimensional characters, serious themes, and any trace of the dramatic, and why not? It was, after all, the height of the Great Depression, and who needed any of the above providing a show’s zany characters made you laugh and its songs had you humming along?
“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 the best known of the Porter classics featured in Anything Goes, with “Easy To Love” added to the 1987 revival version now onstage at GCT.
As for storyline, it’s not that there isn’t one. There are, in fact, quite a few lighthearted plot threads tying the abovementioned songs together for madcap, screwball, slapstick, farcical fun-and-laughs aboard the S.S. America, bound for England from New York City.
Among those sailing the Atlantic are rising young Wall Street whiz Billy Crocker (a handsome and charming Bobby Burkich), on board to drop off the passport that his boss Elisha J. Whitney (Stephen O’Hara, hilariously harrumphy) has left behind, and wealthy young debutante Hope Harcourt (a radiant, gorgeous-voiced Katie Moya), traveling with her society mom Evangeline (Cindy Irwin Bullock, doing her best hoity-toity) and Mrs. Harcourt’s pet pooch Cheeky (a stuffed animal giving the evening’s only entirely unbelievable performance)
There’s also Hope’s veddy veddy English fiancé Sir Evelyn Oakleigh (a posh and peachy John David Wallis), fascinated by all things American, particularly by our slang; Public Enemy Number 13, aka Moonface Martin (David Gallic, giving the stage-and-screen’s wackiest gangsters a run for their stolen money), in disguise as a man of the cloth; and Moonface’s redheaded girlie-girl Erma (the always sensational Colette Peters, as floozy-riffic as they get).
Most eye-catching of them all is evangelist-turned-nightclub chantoozie Reno Sweeney (russet-haired, power-piped sizzler Sarah Vanek, making a welcome return to the GCT stage), accompanied by her quartet of effervescent, curvy “Angels.”
Along the way, Billy finds himself impersonating not just America’s Most Wanted (aka Public Enemy Number One) but also a sailor, a matronly passenger, and a coolie-hatted Chinese, all the while trying to convince Hope to ditch her fuddy-duddy of a beau for the young man with whom she once shared a midnight kiss in Central Park, i.e. our handsome hero Billy Crocker himself.
Like original book writers Guy Bolton, P.G. Wodehouse, Anna Crouse, and Howard Lindsay, 1987 revival scribes Timothy Crouse and John Weidman need only the slightest of pretexts to introduce one Cole Porter hit after another. (Probably the only reason the writers made Reno a former evangelist is to give her a reason to belt out the show-stopping gospel hymn “Blow, Gabriel, Blow.”)
Crouse and Weidman’s new book ingeniously rearranges songs and rewrites dialog to give Anything Goes a more contemporary sensibility than previous versions while maintaining its madcap 1930s style. (On a less positive note, the Act Two-opening lollapalooza of a “Blow, Gabriel Blow” is the only production number we get post-intermission.)
Director Mark Knowles’s previous GCT credits (Kiss Me Kate, Lucky Stiff, and The Scarlet Pimpernel among them) make him an ideal choice to restage Anything Goes arena-style.
Choreographer Paul Reid’s abundant experience as GCT’s busiest chorus boy makes him too an inspired choice, Anything Goes’ full-cast production numbers earning deserved, repeated cheers in addition to giving triple-threat ensemble members Cailin Anne, Anna Carlise (Virtue), Devin Dimitri Dominguez, Roslyn Dubberstein, Erin Dubreuil, Jeremy Edwards (Reverend Henry T. Dobson), Fernanda Hidalgo, Kevin Holmquist (Sailor), Jacob Krech (Sailor), Joey Langford (Sailor), Edwin Osaze (Fred, Photograper), Justin Perez (Sailor), Laura Rensing, Calista Ruiz (Purity), and Libby Snyder (Chastity) the chance to kick up their heels and work up a sweat.
A trio of delightful cameos are delivered by Hisato Masuyama (Luke, formerly known as Ching) and Sean Parchejo (John, formerly Ling) as a very politically incorrect pair of Chinese missionary converts/card whizzes and by Griffin Barr as the ship’s ever more frenzied purser.
Musical director Steven Applegate once again elicits some fine vocals (performed to prerecorded tracks expertly mixed by sound designer Alex Mackyol). Tim Dietlein’s flashy lighting design, a cleverly morphing scenic design (with occasional dance sequences to hold attention during scene changes), and above all Angela Manke’s abundance of colorful 1930s costumes give the latest from GCT a terrific look as well. Only the women’s off-kilter mix of wigs (not all of them period-perfect) and contemporary real-hair dos proves distracting.
Reid doubles as stage manager.
You can probably count the number of still-revived 1930s musicals on the fingers of one hand. Check out Glendale Centre Theatre’s spiffy trip down memory lane and you’ll see why Anything Goes tops the list.
Glendale Centre Theatre, 324 N. Orange St., Glendale.
September 1, 2016
Photos: Angela Manke