Cole Porter classics keep 'Anything Goes' afloat

Howard County Times

The screwball comedy spirit of the 1934 musical “Anything Goes” definitely comes across in a Silhouette Stages production that makes the most of the silly plot. Set on the sort of ocean liner that’s fully booked with colorful characters, “Anything Goes” lives up to its title.

Not everything that’s silly is very funny, though, and the musical’s original book by the British comic writer P.D. Wodehouse and four others has its share of characters and situations that don’t make for entirely smooth sailing; and that book’s subsequent revision by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman is only a marginal improvement.

Fortunately, that slapped together story is the least of the reasons to see this vintage Broadway musical. After all, the music and lyrics are by Cole Porter. Sporting such immortal songs as “You’re the Top,” “It’s Delovely,” “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “Anything Goes” and “Let’s Misbehave,” this show seems fresh and clever every time another musical number kicks off. Porter’s music is always, music to the ears, and his witty lyrics are as smart as the plot is stupid.

In terms of musical theater history, “Anything Goes” is a reminder that the musicals of that era often featured plots that were just an excuse to get from one song to the next. Actually, this can be quite agreeable. Characters who have stepped right out of central casting engage in a goofy story that’s not meant to be taken seriously. We’re all just there to have a good time, of course, and “Anything Goe” is a pleasure when it’s watched in that spirit.

So, the shipboard romances, gangster intrigue and other bits of comic business do make you smile; and because the plot complications aren’t very complicated, you can make note of how they more or less set up an excuse for the next love song or explosive tap dance routine.

Considering that it’s the songs that ultimately keep this boat afloat, the Silhouette Stages production directed by Conni Ross is blessed to have some accomplished voices in lead roles. Two performers in particular really stand out here. Robyn Bloom plays Reno Sweeney, a Mae West-evocative star whose sultry moves are right out of 1930s’ showbiz. Bloom excels in “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” “Anything Goes” and several other numbers. Not only does she have a strong voice, but, equally important is that she has the brassy confidence that the character needs.

Another standout performance is by somebody in what’s technically a supporting role. Maddie Bohrer is terrific as Bonnie, a gangster moll whose cheerfully assertive, Betty Boop-evocative behavior lifts every scene she’s in. When Bohrer is showcased in a couple of numbers, “Heaven Hop” and “Let’s Step Out,” you get a real sense of what those ‘30s musicals must have felt like back in the day.

Other actors in the large cast vary in quality, but their good-natured performances make for mostly smooth sailing. Admittedly, some performers seem hampered by the plot mechanics that contain enough clunky dialogue to present a challenge.

One of the principal plot strands, for instance, involves how a nice guy named Billy Crocker (Jim Gross) is wooing a nice gal named Hope Harcourt (Rebecca Hanauer) who happens to be engaged to a British bloke named Sir Evelyn Oakleigh (Ryan Geiger). Although these actors could do more to bring out the romantic chemistry in the situation, they’re saddled with dialogue that makes you eager for them to get to the next song.

The numerous other passengers on board this ship sailing from America to England tend to be such broadly conceived character types that the Silhouette Stages cast is absolutely right to play them with over the top mannerisms. Even so, several actors go for very broad caricatures, while others aim for relatively realistic characterizations. It’s not in the end such a problem, though, because this ship obviously is sailing in a sea of silliness. Also, it’s fun to watch how individual performers really go to town - or to sea - with their spoof-oriented characterizations.

Todd Hochkeppel, for example, plays a gangster named Moonface Martin with such enthusiasm that it’s very funny listening to him rate the merits of the notorious prisons in which he has resided.

As for the ship itself, the two-level set design by Alex Porter is roomy enough for all of the nautical traffic management overseen by director Conni Ross and choreographer Tina Marie DeSimone. It’s a sleek ship with some art deco touches, making it a very congenial setting for a busy story and brilliant songs.

Silhouette Stages’ “Anything Goes” has its remaining performances on Friday, March 15 at 8 p.m.; Sunday, March 17 at 3 p.m.; Saturday, March 23 at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, March 24 at 3 p.m. at Slayton House Theatre, 10400 Cross Fox Lane in Wilde Lake Village Center in Columbia. Tickets are $22; $18 for seniors, students, military and Howard County Public School teachers. Go to silhouettestages.com

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