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The American songbook is heavily laced with work born during the time of the classic American musical. Those musicals, often little more than platforms for those songs, offered a particular entertainment: great music, energetic dancing, romance and laughter, and that indefinable element of performance known as star quality. This is the era of “you went on a chorus girl, but you’ve got to come off a star.” It is also the era of Porter, and Gershwin, and Berlin, and Rodgers and Hart – again, the great American songbook.
Now a better-than-original version of that great Cole Porter hit “Anything Goes,” which lit up Broadway this past season, has barreled its way into the Ahmanson. It sports a newly revised book by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman which tidies up the vagaries of the original – itself an amalgam of scripts by four writers including Crouse’s father – and creates the crispness a modern audience expects. Yet, these same revisionists also went back to the original score, reinstating songs tossed in later versions, and tossing out songs originally from other Porter hits. It works, from beginning to end.
Add a sharp cast, replete with a reasonable amount of that star quality, and the charm of the original shines like a beacon.
Leading the charge is Rachel York, whose wry and experienced Reno Sweeney sings with classic Broadway bravura and dances like a 20-year-old. It’s a star turn of the old school, and sets the tone of excellence for the rest of the production.
Erich Bergen’s chiseled good looks and muscular style give the earnest Billy Crocker the boyish appeal of the show’s slightly silly romantic lead. Alex Finke’s gentle and genteel ingenue, Hope, makes an interesting balance to York’s brass – as much a contrast as the two women’s physicalities – as they engage in occasional battle over Billy’s heart. Dennis Kelly gives Billy’s millionaire boss an appropriately cartoonish quality, while Sandra Shipley, as the mother of heiress Hope, provides entertainingly lively counterpoint.
Some of the best news comes from Edward Staudenmayer’s version of the often overly ridiculous Sir Evelyn, the man Hope is to marry. Staudenmayer makes the man silly, but charmingly so, making him far more attractive than in most productions. LIkewise, the crisp performances of the traditional comic relief – Joyce Chittick as an unabashedly trampy gangster’s moll, and Fred Applegate as a most ineffective Public Enemy – take the entire proceeding up a notch from the norm. That all these folks are backed by an impressive chorus makes the entire production a true delight.
Director/choreographer Kathleen Marshall gets this kind of entertainment. The enhancements, whether the crispness of performances, or the sweep of dance sequences, or the elaboration of stage pictures, are all totally in character for the piece. The show-stopping tap numbers are stunning, if exhausting to watch. The sense of energy and joy which moves the piece along leaves an audience wanting more, while nearly vibrating with the transmitted fire from the stage.
In short, for those of us raised on civic light opera productions, or the semi-professional works done on smaller stages around the southland, not to mention the high school or college versions, this “Anything Goes” is a reminder. Once upon a time the best singers, dancers and, well, stars gathered on Broadway to make sheer, unadulterated, lighthearted entertainments. I am sure that in those days audiences left the theater humming, skipping and smiling just as those do leaving the Ahmanson. You can’t help it, when such a classic thing is all done so well.
What: “Anything Goes” When: Through January 6, 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 1 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sundays, added 2 p.m. performances Thursday December 27 and January 3. No performances December 25 or January 1. Where: The Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave. in downtown Los Angeles How Much: $20 – $120 Info: (213) 972-4400 or http://www.CenterTheatreGroup.org
The American musical has evolved over time. No long do you find, except as a send-up of a former age, the kind of fluffy shows common in the 20s and 30s, when George Gershwin, Irving Berlin and Cole Porter created so much of the Great American Songbook. Attempts to look back at that era often become self-conscious or satiric. It’s nice when someone just returns for a loving look.
This is the case at the Candlelight Pavilion, where Porter’s classic “Anything Goes” gets a charming rendition, played in time period – for laughs, rather than to be laughed at. The singing is good. The dancing is appropriate. The characters, though broadly drawn, are tuned just right. The net result is a lighthearted, nostalgic evening of sheer entertainment.
The story is one typical of the era. Mistaken identity and sensual attraction rule the day. A wealthy and rather lascivious banker crosses the Atlantic on a great liner, along with a famed evangelist turned nightclub singer and her chorines, a minor gangster pretending to be a missionary, his moll, and a young American with her British fiancé, her mother, and the old beau who stowed away to break them up. Various parings and re-pairings ensue.
Stacy Huntington makes energetic and believable work of Reno Sweeney, the songstress, giving those classic songs a fresh spin. The other standouts include R.C. Sands, genuinely funny as the marginally famous gangster, and Nick Tubbs, who makes the Brit truly likable, rather than just silly-pompous. For once you can actually understand why Reno falls for him in the end. Also good is Chelsea Baldree as the gangster’s gal with a heart of gold, and James McGrath, who gets to sing a lot of the best duets as the stowaway young stock broker.
Rachel Davis makes a lovely ingenue, and sings most sweetly. John Lynd gives the banker the necessary combination of myopia and lustful thinking. Toni Lynd makes the intrusive mother a cross between a pushy stage mother and an upper crust church lady. The chorus sings and dances, tap included, with great style (and perhaps a little recorded enhancement), giving energy to the “Heaven Hop” and “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” – the show’s two showstoppers.
John Vaughan, as always has done a lot with a small space, giving the impression of large chorus numbers with a minimal cast. Timing is key here, as the script borders on farce, and Vaughan keeps things sharp, allowing the piece to flow quickly and charmingly across the evening. The set, a standard one, is used well, and most of the costumes fit well both the people in them and the time period.
In short, this “Anything Goes” honors well that vibrant and silly genre so surprisingly well suited to Candlelight Pavilion’s intimate setting. The meal is pretty good too, right down the intermission desserts. In this time of political and social jangling, sometimes it’s nice to look back to when “entertainment” meant parking your brain for an hour or two, and humming along to great tunes.
What: “Anything Goes” When: Through November 18, doors open for dinner at 6 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays, and for lunch at 11 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays Where: The Candlelight Pavilion, 455 W. Foothill Blvd. in Claremont How Much: meal-inclusive, $48 – $68 general/ $25 – $30 children under 12 (appetizers, desserts, beverages and gratuity extra) Info: (909) 626-1254 ext. 1 or http://www.candlelightpavilion.com