By George Maguire
No one dominated the Broadway scene in the 1930s and 1940s more than the prolific Cole Porter. With 24 musicals beginning with Paris in 1928, Porter’s wit, elegance and astonishing gift of music enriched both the mind and the heart. Cole Porter captivated the zeitgeist and bonhomie of the upper class like no other composer. Richard Rogers took musical theater in a whole other direction with the breakthrough of Oklahoma! in 1943.
What fascinates is that with the exceptions of Anything Goes and Kiss Me Kate no other Cole Porter musical has met the test of time despite often prestigious and memorable songs. Anything Goes opened in 1934 and decades later became one of the most beloved and revived musicals in the Broadway canon—1987 with Patti Lupone and 2011 with Sutton Foster. With original songs “I Get A Kick Out Of You,” “All Through The Night,” “Blow Gabriel Blow,” and “Friendship,” it stormed Broadway with a then record setting run of 420 performances.
…Lisa Danz’s elegant and imaginative costumes pop out with color and taste…
The ridiculously inane and goofy plot (if you can begin to follow it) takes place on a cruise ship crossing the Atlantic from NYC to England. With toe tapping sailors, mistaken identities, crooks and gangsters and ever-changing love affairs, the latest version of the musical is held together with a luscious score filled with interpolated musical numbers (“You’re The Top,” “It’s Delovely”) from the Porter canon. You just sit back and let the memorable, constantly hummable score wrap you in the greatness of an American musical.
Now to the problems and the challenges of this production. The set (by Kuo-Hao Lo) is a monochromatic white boat deck that is desperately in need of some filigree. Like a large roll of paper towels, it is just there and unfortunately feels unfinished. This is not enhanced by the weak lighting design of Sean Keenan.
Only Lisa Danz’s elegant and imaginative costumes pop out with color and taste. Kudos to Ms.Danz’s choice to give the sailors the colors of Ukraine with yellow and blue tops.
All of this is richly enhanced by Robyn Tribuzi’s stunning tap choreography of the title song. It keeps building and building until it bursts with Broadway glory and we are finally at home with Anything Goes.
The 18-member cast is led by Ashley Cowl as Reno Sweeney (The Ethel Merman role), and Ms. Cowl can do it all. The score is perfectly situated in her head-belt range and she sings it with flair and gusto. In a glorious role reversal casting choice, the role of the inept con-man Moonface Martin, is played with expert comic timing and gorgeous vocals by Heather Orth as a gun toting hilarious gal in a nun’s outfit.
Is there anything Ms. Orth cannot do? Matt Skinner is the stowaway Billy Crocker in love with the already engaged Hope Harcourt (Jas Cook). Mr. Skinner’s sweet tenor and love on his shirt sleeves ardor make for a boyish leading man. His “You’re the Top” duet with Ms. Cowl’s Reno is a particular highlight.
The rest of the cast for me was either inadequate or pushed so hard, I wanted to say “Dial it back.” This is a tough show in which to find a balance, and I kept forgetting who and why some roles were even on stage under Nick Ishimaru’s direction.
The opening night audience was loud and appreciative, but there were empty seat post-intermission. Still, there is that score and delight in the music (led by music director Dave Dubrusky’s four-piece ensemble), as the song goes – takes us back to Manhattan.
ASR Contributing Writer George Maguire is a San Francisco based actor and director. and a voting member of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. He is a Professor Emeritus of Solano College. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
|Written by --- Revised by --- Music by||Guy Bolton, P.G. Wodehouse --- Lindsay and Crouse --- Cole Porter|
|Directed by||Nick Ishimaru|
|Producing Company||42nd Street Moon|
|Production Dates||Thru Mar 12, 2023|
|Production Address||The Gateway Theatre
176 Jackson Street San Francisco, CA
|Tickets||$35 – $80|
|Reviewer Score||Max in each category is 5/5|
|Aisle Seat Review PICK?||----|