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'Anything Goes' brings Broadway classic to Arundel stages

Cole Porter's "Anything Goes" is near the top of any short list of great Broadway musicals, and fans have a choice of four performances this weekend in Annapolis or Brooklyn Park.

From what I heard from the cast of singer-actors rehearsing last Friday at the home of Live Arts Maryland music director J. Ernest Green, I predict another terrific "Broadway in Annapolis" production. Watching the actors run lines and rehearse songs, I was soon so immersed in the show's incomparable music and wit that I fully understood what "It's De-Lovely" actually means.

Porter established his Broadway career with this 1934 show, set on a luxury liner. Socially ambitious Mrs. Wadsworth Harcourt expects her debutante daughter Hope to marry English aristocrat Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, although Hope secretly is attracted to Wall Street assistant Billy Crocker. In love with Hope, Billy is unaware of brassy nightclub singer/part-time evangelist Reno Sweeney's romantic feelings for him. Several changes in partnerships and identities take place before the conclusion.

In addition to keeping these colorful passengers happy, the ship's captain is kept busy searching for a few stowaways, including gangster Moonface Martin and floozy Bonnie, who use a series of disguises.

This frothy plot is lifted by witty dialogue and Porter's timeless score. It's packed with such hits as "You're the Top," "I Get a Kick Out of You," "It's De-Lovely," "Let's Misbehave," "Blow, Gabriel, Blow" and, of course, the title song. In fact, "Anything Goes" set the standard by which all future Porter shows would be judged. They were often found falling short of this early peak.

From the beginning, "Anything Goes" provided a star vehicle for leading lady Ethel Merman, who created the Reno Sweeney role. The tradition continues with the current Broadway version, winner of the 2011 Tony award for Best Revival of a Musical. Triple-threat star Sutton Foster has redefined the Reno Sweeney role to win the 2011 Tony for Lead Actress.

Having enjoyed this show on Broadway in November (despite Foster's absence for that performance), I can vouch for its dazzle from the orchestra's first downbeat to the magnificent set, alive with a crew of tap-dancing sailors. It's well worth a trip to New York.

Meanwhile, we in Anne Arundel County have the "Anything Goes" ship docking Friday and Saturday, Feb. 10-11, at Maryland Hall with its own superb talent onboard. And this Live Arts Maryland production will head to Chesapeake Arts Center for a 3 p.m. performance on Sunday, Feb. 12, sponsored by the Performing Arts Association of Linthicum.

Green's "Broadway in Annapolis" productions always feature the superb musicians of the Annapolis Chamber Orchestra and showcase the beautifully blended voices of the Annapolis Chorale — plus a talented cast of actor-singers.

Always significant in these "Live on Stage" productions is clever dialogue, along with enough movement to enliven performances within the confines of minimal stage space. Above all, Green and associates deliver the music as the composer intended.

From what was apparent at rehearsal — without benefit of the full orchestra or talented StageWorkz dancers — I can predict a lively production filled with witty lines to win our laughter along with our heartier guffaws at the comically ridiculous antics of inept gangsters, a feckless hard-drinking stockbroker and stuffy aristocrats. There is also the romance of a guileless nightclub diva captivating a titled British nobleman and a love-crazed hero besotted by a not-so-prim ingenue.

After striving to perfect their British accents, several actors moved to the music room, where they were joined by pianist Erik Apland to accompany them in a selection of vintage classics. Completely at home, immediately brightening "You're the Top," was leading-man tenor Tom Magette, who plays Billy Crocker.

He was joined by Molly Green, who showed she could redefine Reno Sweeney. She brought her own seductive charm to "I Get a Kick Out of You." Green moved to another partner, baritone John Halmi, who plays Sir Evelyn Oakleigh, to combine sass in "Let's Misbehave" for a memorable delivery.

At last check, there were many seats available at PAAL's Sunday afternoon performance at Chesapeake Arts Center, 194 Hammonds Lane in Brooklyn Park. Single tickets are $15 for guests of PAAL subscribers and $22 for all other adults, with free admission for students who accompany paying adults.

Also at 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 12, at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts is Annapolis Opera's "Shakespeare in Love" concert featuring rising young singers in selections from opera and Broadway. Other participating artists include Ballet Theatre of Maryland dancers. Tickets at $45 and $55 are available at Maryland Hall Box Office.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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