BWW Reviews: ANYTHING GOES Sets Sail in San Leandro Thru August 25
In 1934, during the height of the Great Depression, Americans were looking for escapist entertainment and they found it in Cole Porter's frothy, screw-ball comedy, Anything Goes. Since then the show has seen many updates and revivals, the latest of which won the 2011 Tony for Best Revival. The plot remains a zany farce set on a cruise ship where disguises, mistaken identities and malapropisms contribute to a very de-lovely evening at the theatre. The show sets sail now thru August 25 with Curtain Call Performing Arts (CCPA) in San Leandro, California.
This tiny, fledgling community theatre company (barely five years old) had a big vision for this show and though the venue is small, Anything Goes is a full-scale production. Just imagine a giant cruise ship in a 67-seat theatre and you begin to see why CCPA's website says that they're "the biggest little theatre in the bay."
Director Jon Rosen set the course for full steam ahead with a cast that seemed blissfully unaware that they were land-bound and not out on the open seas headed for bonny old England. With no orchestra pit available, the four-piece band, led by bay area veteran David Manley, sat atop a deck stage right and played magnificently.
Where the show ran into problems was with the decision not to mic the leads. Celia Jones (who shines as Reno Sweeney, the nightclub star who's booked to sing on the ship), easily belted her songs, but it was sometimes a struggle to hear the other leads - especially in the big musical numbers. As well, cast members were often in partial shadows and the lack of follow spots meant that focus was diffused across the stage.
Scott Alexander Ayers and Hanna Schultheis-Gerry had the plumb roles of gangster Moonface Martin and gun moll Bonnie. The two were hilarious. But this was Jones' show.
Reno has the hots for Wall Street broker Billy Crocker (Ivan Harden) but he's crazy mad for a girl he met in a cab who turns out to be an heiress named Hope Harcourt (Ally Reardon). Hope is head-over-heels for him too but sadly, she's engaged to Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (the very British Greg Lynch). As dumb luck would have it Crocker's boss (Andy Serrano), Hope and Lord Oakleigh are all passengers aboard the ship. Crocker decides to stow away (of course) and as you might guess, high jinks ensue.
High jinks and great choreography. Critically acclaimed Marissa Joy Ganz was a definite "get" for CCPA. She skillfully scaled the numbers to the small stage, managing to make the dances seem expansive. Of special delight was the show-stopping "Blow, Gabriel Blow."
Of course it can't be forgotten that the source material for the show is that of the incomparable Cole Porter whose songs ("You're the Top," "I Get a Kick Out of You," "It's De-lovely" and "Anything Goes") are part of our collective memory.
Anything Goes will make you forget the world outside for a running time of 2 hours and 45 minutes - that's a pretty good deal if you ask me. Here's something else I've always longed to write as a critic - gosh it was swell.
Musical romantic comedy
Music and lyrics by Cole Porter
Original book by Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse, Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse
Through Aug. 25 at California Conservatory Theatre
Photo courtesy of Ron Tripp