BWW Review: ANYTHING GOES at Arena Stage
Cole Porter's Anything Goes (original book by P.G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton, with Howard Lindsay and Russsel Crouse) premiered on Broadway in 1934. A highly cherished Golden Age musical, Anything Goes typifies the bombastic, escapist productions written for Great Depression era audiences.
Mistaken identities, star-crossed lovers, hypersexualized vixens; Anything Goes is a madcap musical set aboard an ocean liner that is so entertaining that no one really cares that it is also kind of confusing.
Arena Stage's production uses the new book by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman updated for the 1987 Broadway revival. Crouse and Weidman restored and repurposed the original score to meet the pacing expectations of modern-day audiences, and it remains pitch perfect for a world-weary DC audience.
Lovelorn, ladies-man Billy Crocker (Corbin Bleu) stows away aboard the SS American, departing New York for London, so that he can stalk Hope Harcourt (DC native Lisa Helmi Johanson), even though she is engaged to the flamboyant Englishman, Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Jimmy Ray Bennett). A highlight of the performance is Bennett's Act II's performance of "The Gypsy in Me." It is captivating to watch Bennett transform Lord Evelyn from a reserved Englishman to a tush shaking gypsy, singing beautifully all the while.
Meanwhile, Hope's mom Evangeline Harcourt (Lisa Tejero) and her dog Cheeky (Maximillian Moonshine) flirt with Crocker's boss Elisha Whitney (Thomas Adrian Simpson). Veterans of the stage Tejero and Simpson make the most of their quirky characters.
A former nightclub singer turned Evangelist, Reno Sweeney (Soara-Joye Ross) is the celebrity aboard the SS American. Constantly on the move, Reno is everyone's best friend and partner-in-crime.
Also in the mix are Moonface Martin (Stephen Derosa), a loveable, middling gangster (public enemy #13), and Erma (Maria Rizzo), an inveterate flirt. Reno teams up with Moonface Martin for "Friendship." Part duet, part stand-up comedy routine, "Friendship" gives both DeRosa (a true ham) and Ross to flex their comedic muscles.
Ross is the hands-down star of this production of Anything Goes; a scene-stealer, a Broadway baby, and the very best reason to visit Arena Stage this November.
Bleu and Ross have exceptional chemistry. To the delight of a captivated audience, Choreographer Parker Esse gives Bleu the room to stretch his legs and show-off his show-stopping dancing chops. And while, no one on stage can match Ross' powerhouse vocals, Bleu's bright eyes and classic croon are a recipe for sensational duets, including my personal favorite "You're the Top."
Costume Director Alejo Vietti presents an impeccably turned-out, decadent ensemble, and the stage is graced by an impressive selection of 1930s era bias cut, glittering evening gowns.
This production of Anything Goes is theatre in the round, and Director Molly Smith and Set Designer Ken MacDonald use movable set pieces to ensure adequate space for large ensemble dance numbers. This production achieves the big Broadway musical wow-factor with the use of moveable staircases and a motorized stage lift create levels (atop which Ross reigns supreme).
Beneath the banging boards, Music Director Paul Sportelli conducts an orchestra that not only perseveres but excels.
Running Time: 3 hours, including one 15-minute intermission.
ANYTHING GOES at Arena Stage plays through December 23 at Arena Stage located at 1101 16th St SW, Washington, DC 20024. For tickets click here.
Soara-Joye Ross (Reno Sweeney) and the cast of Anything Goes. Photo by Maria Baranova.