Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Energetic and fun “Anything Goes” bathes Portland in Cole Porter’s music

The national tour of “Anything Goes” steamed into town with lots of pizazz and razzmatazz on opening night, October 2nd at Keller Auditorium. This touring version is based on the 2011 revival of the original bubbly concoction that Cole Porter uncorked in 1934. The story unfolds on an ocean liner where a young man becomes a stowaway, because he in love with a young heiress, who is travelling with her fiancée, a British Lord, to marry him in England. In the meantime, a nightclub singer, who is the main entertainer on board, gives up on her hopes to land the young man and ends up unleashing the inner desires of the uptight British Lord. Along the way, a cast of wealthy travelers, gangsters, sailors, backup singers, and Chinese missionaries get mixed into the plot. With a few twists and turns and a nod to vaudeville, it all works out in the end.

Rachel York carried the show as the Reno Sweeney, the evangelist turned nightclub singer. She used a Mae West-like sultry voice when she was on the prowl and lit up the deck with her charismatic dancing and singing. The lovesick Billy Crocker was convincing portrayed by Josh Franklin, and Alex Finke made a fetching young heiress, Hope Harcourt. But both actors sounded sweet when they sang, but needed larger voices. Edward Staudenmayer created an outstanding Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, and his transformation from a gent with a stiff upper lip to a gypsy-intoxicated wild man was incredibly funny. Superb performances by Leslie Becker as Moonface Martin, Sandra Shipley as Mrs. Evangeline Harcourt, Dennis Kelly as Elisha Whitney, Chuck Wagner as Captain, and Joyce Chittick as the irrepressible Erma added a delightful undercurrent of humor throughout the show.

It was too bad that some of the lyrics and banter got lost, because the orchestra was too loud for most of the singers. It seemed to be problem with the mixing board, and that’s a problem that touring shows can have with the size of the Keller Auditorium, which seats 3200. But with all of the verbiage flying about, there was still a lot of enjoy, such as, “Who will lead this sinner through distilled waters?” There were also a lot of references to bygone personalities, like Fatty Arbuckle and highfalutin stuff like “The Flying Dutchman,” which didn’t draw many chuckles, but “You really know how to fill a girdle,” proved its mettle with an outburst of laughter from all corners of the hall.

In addition to witty lyrics and snappy music, this show has a big time tap dancing segment that goes overboard with outstanding choreography. It used volleys of dancers on the different levels of the ship. They came from the left and right side of the stage and formed intricate lines that coiled around each other. It was amazing. Director and choreographer Kathleen Marshall deserves the highest praise for that show stopping number.

Derek McLane’s three-tiered set design was the perfect backdrop for this show, allowing ample room for tricky dance moves and also simply for moving the story forward. The orchestra, made up of local professionals, was energetically led by Jay Alger. They played Porter’s jazz-inflected music with élan, and the audience left the theater with a smile in their eyes and their toes tapping.

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