BWW REVIEW: DANCING BUOYS 'ANYTHING GOES' AT NSMT
Music and lyrics by Cole Porter; original book by P.G. Wodehouse & Guy Bolton and Howard Lindsay & Russell Crouse; new book by Timothy Crouse & John Weidman; director, Charles Repole; choreographer, Michael Lichtefeld; music direction, Milton Granger; scenic designer, Bert Scott; costume designer, Paula Peasley-Ninestein; lighting designer, Martin E. Vreeland; sound design, Benjamin Furiga; original hair and wig designer, Gerard Kelly
Cast in Order of Appearance:
Elisha Whitney, Tom Gleadow; Fred, a bartender, Jason Pintar; Billy Crocker, Eric Ulloa; Reno Sweeney, Danette Holden; Captain, James Van Treuren; Ship's Purser, Zak Edwards; Reporters, Rashaan James II, Michael McCrary; Photographer, Shane Hall; Henry T. Dobson, Jason Pintar; Luke, Hugh Cha; John, Carl Hsu; Angels: Purity, Rachel Fairbanks, Chastity, Sarah Fagan, Charity, Kaitlyn Frank, Virtue, Victoria Casillo; Hope Harcourt, Alessa Neeck; Mrs. Evangeline Harcourt, Susan Cella; Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, Michael Mastro; FBI Agents, Zak Edwards, Jake Primmerman; Erma, Alaina Mills; Moonface Martin, David Scott Purdy; Lady in Wheelchair, Dawn Tucker
Performances and Tickets:
Now through June 15, North Shore Music Theatre, 62 Dunham Rd., Beverly, Mass.; tickets are $50-75 and are available by calling 978-232-7200 or online at www.nsmt.org.
North Shore Music Theatre's 59th season opener ANYTHING GOES certainly doesn't want for energy. The singers belt, the orchestra blares, and the tap-happy cast of 22 squeezes a full day's worth of aerobic exercise into lightning fast scene changes and fast-footed ensemble dance numbers. For all its manic musical merry-making, though, this super-charged production feels like it's trying much too hard to deliver the goods.
Cole Porter's hit parade of a score, which includes "I Get a Kick out of You," "You're the Top," "Easy to Love," "Friendship," the title tune, "Blow, Gabriel, Blow" and "The Gypsy in Me," is jaunty, romantic, and worth savoring for every delightful, delicious and de-lovely word. Likewise the much revised book (this staging is the 1987 Lincoln Center revival version) relies on impeccable comic timing - sometimes rapid fire, sometimes throwaway - to wring every laugh out of every double take and double entendre.
Unfortunately, much of Charles Repole's direction has his actors steamrolling through songs and scenes, sacrificing much of the show's romance in favor of screwball antics. Lead characters are also fairly one-dimensional, failing to generate much chemistry or sexual spark.
ANYTHING GOES follows Wall Street stock broker Billy Crocker (Eric Ulloa) as he stows away on board the SS American in pursuit of his true love Hope Harcourt (Alessa Neeck). Hope is bound for England with her social climbing mother Evangeline (Susan Cella) and her wealthy fiancé Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Michael Mastro). Also on board are Billy's boss Elisha Whitney (Tom Gleadow), Public Enemy #13 Moonface Martin (David Scott Purdy), his moll Erma (Alaina Mills), and the ship's headliner Reno Sweeney (Danette Holden), an evangelist turned nightclub singer who's in love with Billy but who ends up being pursued by Evelyn. The comedy is fueled by near misses, corny jokes, and ridiculous disguises that, despite their age, still work surprisingly well. And as groan-worthy as the slapstick is, that's how tender the romantic cross-couplings can be.
Here, though, an amped up sound design and a nine-piece pit band dominated by shrill electric keyboards force even the sultry ballads like "Easy to Love" and "All Through the Night" to be belted almost as loudly as the roof raisers "Anything Goes" and "Blow, Gabriel, Blow." Nuance is lost, along with a reason to care.
Fortunately, there's a lot of great dancing and enough tomfoolery to make the outing enjoyable. Choreographer Michael Lichtefeld uses the in-the-round setting very inventively to showcase his talented tappers. In the Act I finale "Anything Goes" especially, he gives everyone a chance to shine by placing his dancers in the spotlight one group at a time. Each character's movements fit his or her personality, and the fun is infectious as a result.
Several supporting cast members also lift the production and make their scenes more than mere traffic control. David Scott Purdy, stepping in at the last minute for headliner Eddie Mekka as Moonface Martin, pairs with Holden as Reno for a joyous duet of "Friendship." He also finds the tough guy's tender, philosophical side in the specialty number "Be Like the Bluebird."
Alaina Mills as Moon's female foil Erma swabs the deck with her entourage of love-starved sailors. She winks and wiggles and sashays through "Buddy, Beware," extolling the virtues of remaining single all the while making her swooning gobs hungry for marriage. Tom Gleadow as the ever-inebriated and visually impaired Elisha Whitney stumbles and bumbles from stem to stern in search of his own amour Evangeline, and Susan Cella as Mrs. Harcourt is as comically scatter-brained as she is financially avaricious.
The greatest scene stealer of all, however, is Michael Mastro as Lord Evelyn Oakleigh. Sweet, honorable, and a bit of a buffoon, he mangles American colloquialisms in an effort to fit in. He also falls madly in love with Reno and ultimately unleashes his wild side in "The Gypsy in Me," a hilarious tango that wins her heart and the audience's, too.
As Reno, Holden is a strong singer and energetic tapper, but she doesn't command the stage the way this brassy, sassy, sexy dame needs to do. She works hard, but that effort shows, and it keeps her at a cool distance from everyone, even Billy and Evelyn, whom she professes to love. Holden manages to relax more with Purdy's Moonface, so much so that during "Friendship" she's downright fun-loving. She looks and sounds a bit like Megan Mullally. If she had more of that actress's unforced swagger she'd be a knockout as Reno.
As Billy, Ulloa is part playboy cad and part schoolboy crush. He comes across as an upstart who masks his insecurities with false bravado. He pairs nicely with Holden for a fun "You're the Top" but he is at his best when volleying vaudeville shtick with the deadpan Purdy. With Hope he could use a bit more warmth. A softer sell on their romantic songs would help both of them immensely.
It seems that the biggest challenge to this production of ANYTHING GOES is NSMT's theater in the round. Half the comedy is lost whenever backs are turned, and the timing is thrown off by the need to keep bodies moving around the stage. Perhaps as the cast settles into the show, they'll ease into more natural rhythms. They simply need to ride the waves that Porter and company have given them.
PHOTOS BY PAUL LYDEN: The Company of Anything Goes; Danette Holden as Reno Sweeney; David Scott Purdy as Moonface Martin with Danette Holden; Michael Mastro as Lord Evelyn Oakleigh and Danette Holden; Alessa Neeck as Hope Harcourt and Eric Ulloa as Billy Crocker