THEATER REVIEW: “Anything Goes” @ Porthouse Theatre by Roy Berko

Through Sat 6/30

The 15th anniversary season of Porthouse Theatre is a perfect representation of the history of musical theater. The opening show, Anything Goes, is a typical 1930s escapist mélange of songs and dances enfolded in a slight story. It is Cole Porter’s fancy word patter and farcical interludes, with a score that includes “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “You’d Be So Easy to Love,” “You’re the Top,” “Friendship,” It’s De-lovely,” “Blow Gabriel Blow” and the title song, “Anything Goes.” No thinking here, just joy.

Oklahoma, the season’s closing production, is the show that introduced the well-made musical. Song, dance and plot line are so enmeshed that everything blends together to tell a clear story. The Rodgers and Hammerstein 1943 classic resulted in what is known as the golden age of Broadway musical theater.

The center show of the season is the thought-provoking Pulitzer Prize winning Next to Normal, a musical drama exposing the underbelly of living with mental illness. It helped develop the contemporary era of “issue musicals,” such as RentDear Evan HansenCome From AwayThe Band’s Visit and Hamilton. Kent State grad Alice Ripley starred in the Broadway production, winning the 2009 Tony Award for her portrayal of a woman with bipolar disorder.

Anything Goes is a 1934 musical with music and lyrics by the prolific Cole Porter. The original book was by Guy Bolton and P. G. Wodehouse. Yes, original book, as the show has been revised numerous times  At last count there are four different “approved” versions. Even the show’s name has gone through alterations (Crazy Week and Hard to Get, among others).  In the process, the score has been altered, some songs cut and others moved to different scenes and sung by different characters, and compositions from other Porter shows have been added.

As is true of escapist era musicals, the plot plays second or even a third level of importance to the singing and dancing. A well-made musical, this is not! The “story” centers on the antics which take place on an ocean liner sailing from New York to London. The various characters include Billy Crocker (Matthew Gittins), a nerdy young stockbroker who is in love with heiress Hope Harcourt (Liz Woodard). He stows away with the hope of stopping her from marrying Evelyn Oakleigh, a British Lord (Eric van Baars).

Also on board is nightclub singer/evangelist Reno Sweeney (Sandra Emerick), who in in love with Billy, public enemy #13 Moonface Martin (Christopher Seiler), Erma (Kelli-Ann Paterwic), his “doll,” two Chinese “reformed” gamblers (Antonio Emerson Brown and Adam Graber), Hope’s mother (Jess Tanner), her former lover Elisha Whitney (Rohn Thomas), who is Billy’s boss, the Angels (Felicity Jemo, Abby Morris, Kaetlyn Cassidy, Luna Cho, Falyn Mapel), and a whole bunch of sailors.

Anything Goes is the type of musical that Porthouse artistic director Terri Kent does so well.   Her staging of the farcical romp is highlighted by a stress on the slapstick, double entendre and character misidentifications. It showcases MaryAnn Black’s sprightly choreography highlighting crowd-pleasing tapping, line and jazz dancing and show-stopping movements.

Sandra Emerick sparkles as Reno Sweeney, singing, dancing and mugging with professional delight. She was born to play the role! She is surrounded by a cast of competent performers who play the farce for all it is worth, dance well and sing with gusto.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: Anything Goes is a perfect summertime escapist farcical musical that will please audiences. Sandra Emerick delights. She is supported by an enthusiastic cast of Equity actors and college students who are enmeshed in outright escapist fun, dynamic songs and creative choreography.

Anything Goes runs at Porthouse Theatre through Sat 6/30. For tickets call 330-672-3884 or go online to porthousetheatre.com.

[Written by Roy Berko, member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle]

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