Review: Plenty of heart, wit in 'Anything Goes' at Arts Center

nancy.wellard@cancer.orgDecember 16, 2012 

The Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, "Anything Goes," now on stage at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina on Hilton Head Island, is an escapist treat filled with romance wit and heart.

The Cole Porter musical is not only tuneful to the extreme, it is hilarious, brimming with zingers and over-the-top wisecracks. The cast of singing dancers and actors engage us in comic complications from the very beginning, and they never let up.

Set on board the SS American, "Anything Goes" is a silly story, really -- about love, celebrity, deception, collaboration, mistaken identity, even blackmail. But, I must say, I was delighted to suspend logic for a couple of hours just to follow the mayhem.

The story begins at a New York City bar, as we find Billy Crocker (William Joseph Lewis) a young Wall Streeter, who, while retrieving some travel documents for his boss -- the very near-sighted Yalie, Elisha J. Whitney (Roger Preston Smith), who by the way has an eye for the ladies -- falling for a beautiful young heiress, Hope Harcourt (Sarah Claire Smith).

Unhappily for Billy, Hope is sailing off to London with her determined mother, Mrs. Evangline Harcourt (Julie Hahn), who has recently experienced a reversal of fortune and has organized for her daughter a financial marriage of opportunity to the wimpy Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Seth Golay). Lord Evelyn is a wealthy, but oh-so-frumpy Englishman, who has, apparently, all of the right stuff -- which in this case is position and money.

It gets better. On the very same SS American, we find ourselves in the gleaming presence of the famous nightclub singer and ersatz evangelist Reno Sweeny (Shannon Lee Jones) who is a good friend of Billy. (I told you there would be some stretches.) And finally, to add to the excitement, Moonface Martin (R. Bruce Connelly), public enemy No. 13, and his moll, the blonde bombshell Erma (Jessica Moore), are also passengers on the ship -- disguised as a minister and a missionary.

What fun, and don't ask.

This is the kind of musical in which every word counts. I loved Reno's "I Get a Kick Out of You." "Anything Goes," is a veritable jukebox of familiar musical treasures, and you will find that you know most of them. I especially enjoyed "You're the Top" with Reno and Billy, and Billy's "Easy to Love." Reno and Moonface do a bouncy "Friendship," and Hope and Billy knock out "It's De-Lovely." The entire company and Reno come together to wrap up the first act with "Anything Goes," and it is, as it should be, showstopping.

When we rejoin the shipboard action in act two, one of the stop-you-in-your-tracks appearances comes with Reno's "Blow, Gabriel, Blow." Her performance is polished in a sophisticated, kind of chanteusey way -- just brassy enough and perfectly polished.

In the best of Broadway musical comedy tradition, the story unwinds with more deception, more mayhem, more mistaken identity and more comic complications. One of my favorite parts of the show, a gamechanger, comes toward the end of Act 2 when Lord Evelyn Oakleigh emerges from his earlier persona, in the most amusing way.

Director Casey Colgan is at the helm of this ship, bringing top notch, high-quality acting, singing and dancing. The choreography is spectacular, especially during the moments of Rockette-like precision, tri-level tap dancing and girls and boys in chorus line pageantry with sailor suits, nautical costumes or slinky dresses.

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