For Email Marketing you can trust

Anything Goes

                                                                 Photos by John Vecchiolla

Anything Goes

                         By Edward Lieberman

The  WBT’s 206th production is the rollicking Cole Porter’s Anything Goes, featuring an outstanding cast, precision tap dancing, gorgeous costumes and a great orchestra: in short everything you would want in a show . . .  except, alas, for a coherent plot. But even that is appropriate, given the time from whence it sprang and its provenance.

Anything Goes was written in the mid-1930’s: the pre-Oklahoma years, when plot was seen most often as mere filler between songs. And even if plot was deemed important, this show’s plotting was doomed from the start: The original story, written by P.G. Wodehouse (Jeeves) and Guy Bolton, was to have been about a bomb on an ocean liner, the shipwreck that ensues, and hi-jinks on a deserted island, but two months before the scheduled opening a fire on the SS Morro Castle sank the ship off the coast of New Jersey, killing 138. Fearing reaction to the tragedy (think Towering Inferno opening on September 12, 2001), the producer needed a quick re-write. Wodehouse and Bolton were unavailable, so, in a perfect example of necessity being the mother of invention, the producer turned to the show’s director, Howard Lindsay, who, in turn, brought in press agent Russel Crouse to collaborate with him on a new book. Lindsay and Crouse went on to become one of the greatest writing partnerships in theater history, writing The Sound of Music, among other hit shows. And even though the show that emerged was one of the most popular and well-received of the 1930’s musicals (the 1934 original production ran 420 performances during the height of the Depression, when few could afford to go to the theater), its two Broadway revivals saw additional tweaking, and different Cole Porter songs were inserted and deleted from the various versions (e.g. “Friendship” and “It’s De-Lovely” were not in the original libretto). The version on display at WBT is based upon the 1987 revival with a revised book by Timothy Crouse (Russel’s son) and John Weidman (Pacific Overtures, Assassins).

Jackie Raye & Zach Trimmer (as Hope & Billy) perform "It's Delovely"

For those who crave context, however, here’s a thumbnail sketch of what passes for the plot: The SS America is about to set sail for England. Behind the scenes, the ship’s captain bemoans the fact that all the local celebrities are sailing on its competitors’ ships. Meanwhile, Billy Crocker is a low-level broker employed by financier Elisha Whitney, who is leaving for England on the America. While seeing his boss off, he learns that his old friend, Reno Sweeney, is on board as the ship’s lead entertainer, and, further, that the object of his affections, Hope Harcourt, is also on board, betrothed -- at her mother’s insistence -- to hapless (but rich) English Lord Evelyn Oakleigh.

Kevin Pariseau as Sir Evelyn Oakleigh and Stacia Fernandez as Reno Sweeney.

Through a series of mishaps Billy stows away, hoping to win Hope’s heart, but, in doing so, he must avoid detection both by his employer and by the ship’s crew.  Enter Moonface Martin, a gangster popularly known as Public Enemy No. 13, who is onboard disguised as a clergyman. When the real clergyman shows up, threatening to blow Moonface’s cover, Billy identifies Moonface as the real chaplain, and the real clergyman is thrown off the ship. As a reward, Moonface gives Billy the passport and ticket of his boss, Snake Eyes Johnson, Public Enemy No. 1 (without telling Billy of his criminal status, of course).  When he and Moonface are finally caught, instead of being locked up in the brig for the rest of the trip, the Captain throws a party for their biggest celebrity, Billy, a/k/a/Public Enemy No. 1! This being a musical comedy, you can guess the slapstick hi-jinks that follow, leading to the happy ending that ensues: Billy marries Hope, Reno marries Oakleigh, Hope’s mother marries Whitney, all being wed by Moonface, as the ship’s chaplain!

Zach Trimmer as Billy, Jon J. Peterson as Moonface Martin & Stacia Fernandez as Reno Sweeney.

This version of the show, based upon the 1987 revival,  includes such Porter standards as “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “You’re the Top,” “You’d Be So Easy to Love,” “Friendship,” “It’s De-Lovely,” “Blow, Gabriel Blow,” “Be Like a Bluebird,” “All Through the Night,” “The Gypsy in Me,” and, of course, the title song, “Anything Goes.”  With such a score a real plot would only get in the way!

In case some readers have been sensing something familiar about the characters and musical numbers above, you are correct: this show presaged another about denizens of the underworld and their need to repent: Guys and Dolls. “Moonface” Martin and “Snake Eyes” Johnson certainly bear a passing resemblance to “Harry the Horse,” “Angie the Ox” and the ever-famous “Nicely-Nicely” Johnson (maybe Snake Eyes and Nicely-Nicely are related!?!). And “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” herein bears a similar resemblance to the confessional, “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” in G & D. Just remember, Anything Goes came first!

The cast of this production is uniformly outstanding -- in other words, up to WBT’s usual standards. Indeed, Zack Trimmer, who plays Billy, played Tony in WBT’s production of West Side Story a few years back. He was great then, and remains so in this production. His beautiful voice blends well with his female partners, especially in his duets with Stacia Fernandez, as Reno Sweeney, singing “You’re the Top,” and Jackie Raye, as Hope, singing “It’s DeLovely.” Although this role doesn’t call for much emoting, as did Tony in West Side Story, the chemistry between Mr. Trimmer and Ms. Raye herein was palpable.

The role of Reno Sweeney has been performed differently over the years. Ethel Merman originated the role onstage and on screen, and Patti LuPone starred in the 1987 revival. Both these actresses were belters and did little dancing, as opposed to Sutton Foster, who helmed the 2011 revival, for which she won the Tony as Best Actress in a Musical. Ms. Foster took a more active role in dancing the part, as well, especially in the first act finale, “Anything Goes.” Ms. Fernandez falls more into the Merman/LuPone category, and more than holds up her end of the vocal bargain, especially in the rousing “Blow, Gabriel, Blow.”

Ms. Raye, as Hope, has a pleasing voice, dances well, and looks great in the many wonderful gowns provided by Keith Nielsen and his costume department. Three other members of the cast were shameless scene stealers: Kevin Pariseau, as the malaprop-prone Lord Oakley (“the rat’s pajamas”); Mychal Phillips, as Moonface’s moll, Erma; and Jon J. Peterson, as Moonface Martin. Other standouts include Bob Walton, as Billy’s boss, the Yale-obsessed financier, Elisha Whitney; and Tina Johnson, as Hope’s money-grubbing mother, Mrs. Harcourt. Kudos also to the gypsies, especially Will Geoghegan, Leeds Hill, Jason Daniel Rath and Joey Simon, forming the “Sailor Quartet,” and Katy Scarlett Brunson, Lily Lewis, Mallory Nolting and Caroline, Chisholm, playing the “Four Virtues,” all under the direction and imaginative choreography of Richard Stafford, assisted by Joseph Cullinane.

The performances were ably abetted by the terrific orchestra and sound design under the direction of Patrick Hoagland and Mark Zuckerman, respectively. Unlike in some other productions here, the seven backstage musicians did not overwhelm the singers or the sounds of the tap dancers – especially important here, in order for the audience to appreciate the sophisticated lyrics of Mr. Porter.  Set design and lighting by WBT regulars Steve Loftus and Andrew Gmoser, respectively captured the art deco designs of the period; and, last, but certainly not least, the opulent costumes by Keith Nielsen accurately reflected the fascination of Depression-era folk with the clothes and mores  of the upper crust.

Anything Goes, with its fascination with opulence and celebrity, provides a reminder of, and welcome diversion from, the news of today, as it did when it opened during the depths of the Depression!

Catch the festivities at the Westchester Broadway Theatre, One Broadway Plaza, Elmsford, NY through September 9, 2018.

Box Office: (914) 592-2222;