Frisky and fun ‘Anything Goes’ offers fresh interpretation

A full moon illuminated the Friday night sky, and that moonglow permeated New Line Theatre’s production of “Anything Goes,” giving this timeless screwball comedy extra oomph.

Two obvious takeaways from opening night: Never take this old warhorse for granted, and the frisky ensemble is having tons o’ fun pretending to set sail.

All aboard the S.S. American for breezy songs, cheery dance and sweet-and-salty romance during a transatlantic trip. This lighthearted confection was crafted with luxurious escapism in mind. Think Marx Brothers meet “The Love Boat.”

After all, the 1934 madcap musical enlivened Depression-era Broadway with its comedic characters, mistaken identities, café society satire, and wicked pokes at celebrity culture and commercial religion.

Cole Porter called “Anything Goes” one of his two perfect musicals, the other being his triumphant comeback, “Kiss Me, Kate.” The hit-heavy score is one of the very best: “You’re the Top,” “It’s De-Lovely,” “Let’s Misbehave” and “All Through the Night,”

Porter’s sophisticated and clever lyrics, combined with naughty jabs, is as refreshing as a sea breeze, with romantic ballads nudging our two inevitable couplings.

Fortunately, co-director Scott Miller selected the 1962 off-Broadway version that mixes up the 1934 original’s song order, adds songs from other Porter shows, and features gun moll Bonnie instead of Erma. The musical is better with “Bon Voyage,” “Heaven Hop” and “Take Me Back to Manhattan.”

The title song and “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” were tailor-made for Ethel Merman, the original Reno Sweeney, and since then, two iconic leading ladies have won Best Actress Tony Awards playing the nightclub-singer-turned-evangelist in the two Tony-winning revivals: Patti LuPone in Lincoln Center’s 1987 version and Sutton Foster in 2011’s Roundabout Theatre Company smash.

A sizzling Sarah Porter displays cheeky wit and a sly, dry delivery not unlike a devil-may-care Mae West.  Rather than mimic the legends, she makes this brassy, sassy character her own – notably with glamour, swagger and robust vocals.

She confidently anchors the show, which features other blithe spirits rising to the occasion, too, bringing something fresh to these archetypal characters.

Standouts include Kimmie Kidd-Booker as social climber Evangeline Harcourt, desperately seeking status and oozing snootiness. Kris Kardashian has nothing on this ferocious mama, as she forces her darling debutante daughter Hope (Eileen Engel) to marry for money instead of love.

Hope’s hasty engagement to the hapless Sir Evelyn Oakleigh, a stuffed shirt with impeccable manners but woefully lacking courtship experience, must be thwarted. In an unexpected casting choice, Zachary Allen Farmer portrays the mild-mannered Brit as a socially awkward, shy guy, and doesn’t go for the obvious choices so often made in this role. It’s impressive what he does with the part, which usually is turned into an effeminate fop. Touche, co-director Mike Dowdy-Windsor and Miller.

Engel is a vision in the stunning vintage outfits costume designer Colene Fornachon has assembled, and she pairs well with smooth operator Billy Crocker (Evan Fornachon). They were smitten with each other after a previous brief encounter.

He stows away while wackiness ensues, and Fornachon deftly handles the goofy disguises as well as the love songs.

“Anything Goes,” one of the most popular musicals presented by schools, colleges and community theater, retains its appeal because every supporting player has moments to shine.

From the flirty va-va-voom Angels (Michelle Sauer as Purity, Larissa White as Chastity, Alyssa Wolf as Charity and Sara Rae Womack as Virtue) to the alcohol-addled Wall Street boss, gruffly played by ace-in-the-hole Jeffrey M. Wright, everyone joyously struts around as if they were on holiday.

You can’t get more over-the-top than the aspiring public enemy Moonface Martin, a daffy gangster frustrated by his 13th ranking on the most wanted list, and his gal pal Bonnie (an exaggerated Sarah Gene Dowling). They’re cartoonish characters whose escapades lead to more hijinks.

Aaron Allen plays the jittery Mooney with a few nervous tics, but earns all his laughs, especially in his sincere but silly rendition of “Be Like the Bluebird.”

Ever reliable Dominic Dowdy-Windsor, Will Pendergast, Jason Blackburn and Clayton Humburg effortlessly slip into assorted minor roles with ease.

The enthusiastic cast briskly cavorts on the ship’s deck, designed with flair by Rob Lippert, who expertly lit the stage too. Ryan Day provided crisp sound design.

Two of the Angels – Sauer and Womack – choreographed snappy high-energy dance moves that work well in the space, with Dowling and the back-up quartet spry tappers.

Music director Nicolas Valdez keeps the tempo bright, and the jaunty band swings giving Porter his due: Ron Foster on trumpet, Joel Hackbarth on second keyboard, Clancy Newell on percussion, Adam Rugo on guitar and banjo, and Jake Stergos on bass.

Kicky and kooky, this ‘Anything Goes” is a buoyant blast from the past that revitalizes one of the great, grand old musicals with charm, humor and style.

New Line presents “Anything Goes” Thursday through Saturday until March 24 at The Marcelle Theatre, 3310 Shepard Drive. Tickets at MetroTix. Have you seen it? Your thoughts are welcome below.

Photos Jill Ritter Lindbergh





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Lynn has had a continuous byline in metropolitan St. Louis publications since 1978. She talks about theater and movies on local radio, and has taught journalism at three colleges, currently at SIUE. She's been a show-tune lovin’ drama queen since age 7, when she organized neighbor kids to put on “Cinderella” in her Belleville backyard. She lives for art, team trivia, new adventures, friends, her large loud family, and her two grown sons Tim and Charlie. She resides in south St. Louis.

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