BWW Review: ANYTHING GOES at Music Theater Works

BWW Review: ANYTHING GOES at Music Theater Works

In a charming take on Cole Porter's 1930s musical, Music Theater Works' ANYTHING GOES delivers lively big-band music, crowd-pleasing dance numbers, and a hearty dose of nostalgia. Directed by Rudy Hogenmiller and choreographed by Clayton Cross, a strong ensemble cast brings to life an eclectic assortment of characters-nightclub singers, undercover gangsters, hapless young lovers, a drunken businessman, a bumbling aristocrat, and more. Brought together in the confines of a transatlantic ocean liner, mischief and misunderstandings abound in true P.G. Wodehouse* fashion, until a series of farcical ruses brings about the inevitable happy ending, complete with a wedding (or three).

Erica Evans is a memorable leading lady as Reno Sweeney, the clever nightclub singer who takes an active role in most of the madcap subplots. In addition to her rich vocals and versatile dance skills, Evans shares entertaining chemistry opposite her three leading men: old friend Billy Crocker (Ken Singleton), partner in crime Moonface Martin (Brian Zane), and unexpected love interest Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Maxwell J DeTogne). Whether delivering an upbeat duet with one of these men or tap-dancing center stage during the full-cast title number, Evans brings to every scene a charismatic presence worthy of the show-business character she portrays.

Another notable performance is Maxwell J DeTogne as Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, a caricature of an English aristocrat whose surprising secrets tend to pop out at opportune moments-one such confession leading to his hilarious solo, "The Gypsy in Me." Rick Rapp also gives a comedic turn as Elisha Whitney, an elderly businessman who loves his Yale bulldogs and his booze. Liz Norton plays Whitney's old flame, Evangeline Harcourt, a widow whose devotion to her lapdog is rivalled only by her ambition for her debutante daughter to marry advantageously. Brian Zane and Kayla Boye add to the chaos as outlaws Moonface Martin, otherwise known as Public Enemy #13, and Erma, a sassy New Yorker who wins the hearts of all the sailors.

Musically, Ken Singleton and Lexis Danca deliver pleasant solos and duets as star-crossed lovers Hope Harcourt and Billy Crocker. Other strong vocal performances include the quartet of sailors (Jar'Davion Brown, Matt Huston, Tyler Klingbiel, and Bryan J. Wlas), whose tight harmonies leave one wishing they had more featured numbers. Roger L. Bingaman conducts the live big-band orchestra, which includes several strong soloists who bring plenty of energy to Cole Porter's score, despite some minor balance issues. The high visibility of Cahn Auditorium's orchestra pit lends itself to some playful interactions between musicians and cast; for example, allowing Reno to gesture to the principal trumpet during "Blow, Gabriel, Blow".

ANYTHING GOES has clearly stood the test of time, in spite of several plot elements that are problematic to translate for modern audiences. Music Theater Works' production of this classic is traditional, in a good way; one need not be a big-band aficionado to be entertained by the lighthearted music, dance, and comedy on offer.

*Fans of British humorist P.G. Wodehouse will recognize the signature character types and plot devices of the author who brought us Bertie Wooster and Jeeves. Wodehouse wrote the original book of ANYTHING GOES with Guy Bolton, with revisions by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse. Timothy Crouse and John Weidman wrote a new version of the book, first performed in 1987, and used in this production.

Music Theater Works' ANYTHING GOES plays through August 26 at Cahn Auditorium, 600 Emerson Street, Evanston, IL 60201. Tickets are available at or 847-920-5360.

PHOTO CREDIT: Brett Beiner

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From This Author Emily McClanathan

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