"Anything Goes"

Jeffrey Shankle, at center, joins shipmates for a high-spirited bon voyage send-off in the revival of Cole Porter's "Anything Goes," now at Toby's Dinner Theatre of Columbia. (Kirstine Christiansen / June 29, 2011)

"Anything Goes" still makes for a pretty smooth crossing at Toby's Dinner Theatre of Columbia.

In case you've forgotten, Cole Porter's 1934 musical lifted the spirits of folks during the Great Depression. Now the reworked 1962 revival has slipped back into its tap shoes to take our minds off our own financial woes.

The festive mood is infectious from the moment you enter the comfy Columbia playhouse. Nautical flags flap from the rafters, part of set designer David A. Hopkins's ploy to transform Toby's theater-in-the-round into the top three levels of a classic ocean liner.

As passengers aboard the S.S. American set sail for England, remember to suspend all logical thinking and just sink back in your front-row deck chair. Silly as they all are, the show's capers, naughty dialogue and vaudeville shenanigans really will chase away your blues.


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The ship boasts a bevy of characters, from the rich and famous to the more shady stowaways. Leading the list in glamour is Reno, an evangelist-turned-chantuese played with sultry abandon by veteran local actress Cathy Mundy. She gets the fun into full steam with "You're the Top."

Slinking around in a glitzy gown, Reno kicks up a flirtation with Billy (played by charming Toby's regular Jeffrey Shankle), who has his eyes on Hope (Gracie Jones, a Toby's newcomer), who is engaged to Sir Evelyn, played by co-director Larry Munsey, looking like he just stepped out of a "Monty Python" skit.

The plot thickens when David James enters as Moonface, a gangster who aims to up his standing with his gambler cronies by raising his rank on the list of Public Enemies. His gal pal Bonnie (played by saucy Tina De Simone) constantly reminds him that he's still only number 13!

Director Toby Orenstein's gift for pacing keeps the show moving along smoothly, while keeping the focus on the unfolding plots and counter-schemes. We may feel at times like we're aboard her ship, but Orenstein never leaves us feeling at sea.

Tina De Simone also doubles as choreographer, using all available space for her eye-popping dance routines. Reno and Billy perform a terrific tap duet, aided by the entire ensemble, in the showstopping standard "Anything Goes" at the close of act one.

Second act highlights include "Let's Misbehave," a sexy number that makes room for some terrific male tapping, as well.

It may be unfair to single out one performer for recognition in a cast so loaded with talent, but it's time to recognize the gifts of Jeffrey Shankle. Here's a charming leading man and a true song-and-dance man in the traditional mold. If Toby is ready for another "George M." revival, Shankle is more than ever up to the challenge of playing the ultimate show-biz hoofer,George M. Cohan.

Cole Porters songs like "You're the Top," "Blow, Gabriel Blow," and "I Get a Kick Out of You" all come off great at Toby's, thanks to the talented assist from music director Ross Rawlings and his live, on-the-spot band.

"Anything Goes" continues at Toby's, the Dinner Theater of Columbia, through Aug. 28. There are evening and matinee performances, but reservations are required. For prices and show times, call 410-730-8311 or go to http://www.tobysdinnertheatre.com.