It’s been 24 years since The Marriott Theatre staged “Anything Goes,” the biggest musical comedy of the 1930s, and the revived production is a feat of fabulous choreography, beloved Cole Porter songs, and eccentric, entertaining characters.
“Anything Goes” represented common “escapist entertainment” of the time, or entertainment that allowed the public to escape from the harsh realities of The Great Depression in America and the rise of Nazism in Europe. For a play created in the 1930s, its story is rather risqué with unconventional characters, like its leading woman Reno Sweeney. The story takes place on a luxury ocean liner where a confident nightclub singer (Sweeney), broke stockbroker and the woman he loves, “notorious” gangster, wealthy British lord and a group of tap-dancing sailors all come together. The play combines physical comedy and silly antics with stellar tap dancing scenes and choreography as well as beloved music and lyrics. It’s a story where love and infatuation, honesty and deception, drunkenness and soberness, all blend fluidly into one fast-paced and exciting musical.
Marriott’s production, directed and choreographed by 15-time Jeff Award Winner Marc Robin, is lively, emotional and fun. It’s filled with many professional and engaging tap-dancing scenes, including an impressive seven-minute number at the end of Act I. In general, the choreography in this performance is excellent, as the actors moved fluidly across the stage and transition effortlessly from one scene to the next.
Part of what makes this fluidity possible is the production’s setting, designed by Thomas Ryan. The setting is simple, made up of a moveable ladder and balcony representing the ship’s decks. Throughout the show, the actors and stagehands move this setting around, creating an allusion where the audience feels as if they are constantly facing different sides of the ship’s deck. Furthermore, with this type of setting, the actors and stage becomes visible for everyone in the audience, no matter where they’re sitting, and works within the story itself, as the actors appear in and out of different areas on the ship.
Marriott’s “Anything Goes” is also a fast-paced performance where multiple things happen on stage at once. There are so many different characters, from the drunken Elisha Whitney (played by the talented Gene Weygandt) to the classy and good-natured Hope Harcourt (Summer Naomi Smart), that bump into and chase each another. The actors are all very expressive and their characters unique, so it makes for great comedy.
My favorite characters were Moonface Martin, played by Ross Lehman, Weygandt’s Elisha Whitney, and the promiscuous and sensual Erma, played by Alexandra E. Palkovic. To me, these characters stood out as being the most eccentric, and it was the actors who really embodied and exaggerated their personalities. Lehman presents the not-so-notorious mobster as playful and kind-hearted. From the staggering way he walks to his slurred voice and laid-back attitude, Weygandt’s Whitney is one of the funniest characters. And, finally, Palkovic plays Erma as a loud, provocative, but really endearing and simple woman who steals the spotlight whenever she appears on stage.
The costumes, designed by Nancy Missimi, were also very professional, colorful and vibrant. And I only have positive things to say about the music, which includes some of Cole Porter’s best songs, from “You’re the Top,” “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” and “I Get a Kick Out of You.” All the actors had beautiful voices, especially Stephanie Binetti, who plays the lead, Reno Sweeney.
The other song that stood out in the performance was “The Gypsy in Me.” Patrick Lane, who plays Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, is so funny when he sings this song. He exposes the audience to the vivacious and passionate “gypsy” that lies beneath the prim and proper exterior of his character and is really wonderful in his movements and gestures.
Marriott’s “Anything Goes” is a performance that you won’t want to miss. You’ll have just as much fun watching it as the actors seemed to have performing it.