Review: ANYTHING GOES at Porchlight Music Theatre

The 90th anniversary production of the Cole Porter classic runs through March 10, 2024

By: Jan. 19, 2024
Review: ANYTHING GOES at Porchlight Music Theatre
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It’s delightful, it’s delicious, it’s’s ANYTHING GOES at Porchlight Music Theatre. Artistic Director Michael Weber’s production captures all the joy and laughs in Cole Porter’s 1934 classic musical comedy. Thanks to the new 2022 book by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman, it’s also a tight ship running two hours and fifteen minutes (original book by P.G. Wodehouse, Guy Bolton, Howard Lindsay, and Russel Crouse.)

The new book ensures that the farce and fun of ANYTHING GOES don’t overstay their welcome, and Porchlight’s ensemble knows how to milk all the gags for all they’re worth. This is one of the finest ensembles I’ve seen at Porchlight in quite some time; the performers are consistently energetic, and they’re all sublime dancers and singers. Tammy Mader’s choreography delivers plenty of signature tap dancing moments essential to any staging of ANYTHING GOES, and Nick Sula’s music direction provides great harmonies and a full sound for the seven-piece band.

Of course ANYTHING GOES wouldn’t succeed without some true stars in the leading character roles onboard the fictional S.S. American. Confident yet lonely nightclub performer and “evangelist” Reno Sweeney is chief among them, and Meghan Murphy fills those shoes with pizzazz. Murphy exudes confidence and an easy sense of playfulness, but she also nails Reno’s loneliness and longing. Toeing that emotional line is essential for letting Reno connect with audiences, and Murphy nails it. She also sounds fantastic on all of Reno’s big, belty numbers, especially the title song and “Blow, Gabriel, Blow.” She has consistent powerhouse vocals, and she understands the musical’s comedy. She’s exactly the kind of Reno you want. 

While compared to Reno, the other leading lady Hope is a relatively bland part (a literal straight woman, if you will), Emma Ogea is a pure delight in the role. She has crystalline, powerful vocals, and she knows how to play the doe-eyed ingenue. She’s well-matched by Luke Nowakowski as Billy Crocker, the harried assistant of Yale graduate Elisha J. Whitney (Anthony Whitaker). Nowakowski has a gorgeous, buttery singing voice, and he has the charm to match the pipes. Tafadzwa Diener makes nice work of Erma, the sidekick to public enemy number thirteen Moonface Martin (Steve McDonagh, also playing it up delectably). 

While I’ve long thought of Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, Hope’s ill-matched, bumbling British fiancé to be an over-the-top, throwaway part, Jackson Evans absolutely steals the show. Evans’s magnificent performance really makes the case for Evelyn’s goofy character arc. He has some of the best face play in the entire ensemble; just watch Evans’s face during Murphy’s performance of “Blow, Gabriel, Blow.” He’s a warm, affable performer who’s totally committed to the antics, and he’s so fun to watch. 

Escape the winter blues and set sail with Porchlight’s ANYTHING GOES. I think it’s impossible to leave this one without a smile on your face, and Cole Porter’s catchy score sounds delectable with this cast. 

Porchlight Music Theatre’s ANYTHING GOES runs through March 10 at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 North Dearborn. 

Photo Credit: Liz Lauren