Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, May 2005
Wowie-wow-wow! Whadda show! All singing, all dancing. Everyone and everything in the Cohoes Music Hall production of Anything Goes looks and sounds just great. This current retooling of the 1934 Cole Porter opus, which I am assuming is the 1987 Broadway version with a revised book by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman, crams in even more fabulous Porter music (including some of his Yale songs), brings even more cohesion to the loopy plot, and makes a much bigger deal out of the role of the singing evangelist, Reno Sweeney.
I dare ya not to have fun. I double-dog dare ya!!
In fact, if I were you I would run, not walk, to the box office to get your tickets because this show will sell out - if it hasn’t all ready. Nothing I say here is going to either help or hinder this blockbuster, but I will do my duty and write a little more anyway.
People often ask me if it is easier to write a good review or a bad review, and I always tell them it is harder to write a good one because when everything clicks, what is there really to say? If you know the plot to Anything Goes you have probably conveniently forgotten it and if you don’t never mind because it is entirely irrelevant. This is a show written in the pre-“Oklahoma” days when all musical comedies were merely an excuse to see beautiful and talented people perform wonderful music by the likes of Porter, the Gershwins, Rodgers & Hart, Jerome Kern, etc. Pretty girls and pretty tunes. Acres of toothy tapdancers. That’s what it was, and is, all about.
Up-coming young stockbroker Billy Crocker (Ken Shepski) loves debutante Hope Harcourt (Alison Mahoney) and stows away aboard the S.S. American on an Atlantic crossing in hopes of winning her away from her British fop of a fiancé Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (John Baker). Also aboard are Hope’s mother Evangeline Harcourt (Paula Ginder), who hopes her daughter’s marriage will restore the family fortune lost in the crash, and Billy’s boss Elisha Whitney (Joe Phillips) who thinks Billy is back on Wall Street taking care of some very important stock trades. The aforementioned Reno Sweeney (Leslie Ann Hendricks) and her Angels - Purity (Jessica Costa), Chastity (Darcy Wright), Charity (Nicole Brammer), and Virtue (Heather D’Arcy) - are also sailing as the shipboard entertainment. The Reverend Henry T. Dobson (Kevin A. Mahony) and his two Chinese converts Luke (Brian F. Waite) and John (Joe Heaney) are set to sail, but at the last minute Dobson is arrested, suspected of being Snake-eyes Johnson, Public Enemy #1 who is rumored to be trying to board disguised as a minister. Johnson is not aboard, but Public Enemy #13, one Moonface Martin (John Noble), is on the ship sporting a clerical collar and a machine gun concealed in a violin case, along with his moll Erma (Karla Shook). General hilarity and high seas hi-jinks ensues until an improbable happy ending, complete with a double wedding, is achieved.
The undeniable star of this show is Hendricks’ Reno Sweeney. A beautiful and curvaceous woman, Hendricks belts and taps her way through Porter classics such as I Get A Kick Out of You, You’re the Top, Blow, Gabriel, Blow, and, of course, the title song and Act I finale Anything Goes which just about brings down the house. Michelle Blanchard’s costumes make everyone look fabulous in a pseudo-‘30’s mode, but she has turned out real star-style duds for Hendricks, who wears everything well.
Shepski was pleasantly amusing as Billy, a basic juvenile lead role, but his fine voice and range did admirably by another pile of Porter hits including Easy to Love, It’s Delightful, and All Through the Night. He is not a shabby dancer either. I found Mahoney, saddled with a bad wig (she needed to be a dark brunette because…??) and a few too-tight-to-dance-in-dresses, to be the weak link in the cast as Hope, but she sang prettily and kept out of the way of the comedy, so what more can you ask?
While Hendricks dazzles and Shepski and Mahoney do the young love bit, John Noble sneaks in and darn near steals the show. Blessed with inordinate amounts of charisma and chutzpah that more than made up for his lack of real singing and dancing ability, Noble was a laugh riot as the bumbling criminal who would be Public Enemy #1 and finds himself bumped off the list by tooth decay. I have always had a fondness for Be Like the Bluebird one of Porter’s more tuneless character songs, and Noble has entered my memory book with his priceless rendition.
Another scene stealer who didn’t get to really strut his stuff until later in Act II was Baker, who was obviously have a swell time trotting out his outrageous plumy British accent and boyish charm. The character of Evelyn is often played as an older harrumphing type, so I was pleasantly surprised to see the youthful and agile Baker in the role. I was also pleased that this new version of Anything Goes gives Evelyn a solo - The Gypsy in Me – through which Baker tantalizingly tangoed.
Plop a platinum blonde wig on Karla Shook, put her voice in squeaky mode, and you’ve got yourself the ultimate bimbo. Blanchard has squeezed her into so pretty amazing costumes that maximize all her physical charms as well. The girl can sing and dance…so why was I so puzzled by her character, Erma? Because, I remembered halfway through her Act II solo Buddie, Beware, in earlier scripts this character has been known as Bonnie LaTour and was, well, funnier. Not that Shook isn’t hilarious and downright bodacious, but someone has done something to the script to deprive her of her chance to really shine. Bummer! I was especially depressed to watch her stand on the side lines again and again during the big tap dance numbers because I know what she can do with a pair of Capezios.
Did I mention the big tap dance numbers? Tralen Doler, who has directed and choreographed the whole production, has created some real doozies – the kind that make you leap to your feet and shout “Bravo!” at the conclusion. Even I, a curmudgeonly critic who usually keeps her opinions to herself in public, found myself spontaneously cheering. What fun!
To facilitate all this singing and dancing on the rather small Cohoes stage, scenic designer Scott Aronow has built a runway out through and around the pit orchestra. A tall and narrow upper deck with swinging doors below and above is accessed by swooping staircases that beg to have Astaire and Rogers glide gracefully up them. The entire set is light and bright with clean, period perfect art deco decorations, and backed by a blue sky that Karl Chmielewski’s lighting takes from sunny day to starry, starry night and back again.
The entire ensemble looks like they are having a great time. The chorus formed by the Angels and the Sailors (Byron DeMent, Thay Floyd, Nathan Suggs and Tony Rivera) form a Broadway-ready dancing corps. Rivera, Cohoes’ Managing Director, stepped into his sailor suit when a dancer had to unexpectedly leave the show, and it is a treat to see him in action. Watch for the moment (the very long moment) in the title song when he hoists Hendricks aloft. All that talent and he keeps the books too!
You don’t have a musical with out any music and so I can’t leave the scene without acknowledging the Anything Goes Band, ably led by Musical Director, pianist and conductor Charles Elliott. The ensemble features Graham Doig on synthesizer, John Van Voris and Kevin Barcomb on reeds, and Mary Rodriguez on drums. And who was that dapper dude blowing Gabriel’s trumpet? I have discovered that it was Casey Murphy, and a fine job he does of it.
How wonderful it is for cast, crew and audience when everything gels and theatrical nirvana is achieved. Don’t miss this opportunity to really enjoy yourself. Get to the Cohoes Music Hall TODAY!
Anything Goes, presented by C-R Productions, runs weekends through May 15 at the Cohoes Music Hall, 58 Remsen Street in Cohoes. The show runs two hours and forty-five minutes with one intermission and is suitable for the whole family. Call the box office at 518-237-7999 for tickets and information.
P.S. I see that Cohoes has announced their 2005-2006 season: A Chorus Line September 23-October 9, My Fair Lady October 28-November 13, Annie December 2-18, Ain’t Misbehavin’ February 3-19, Kiss Me, Kate March 17-April 2, and La Cage Aux Folles April 28-May 14. Subscriptions ($140 for adults, $115 for seniors and children) are available at the box office AND if you subscribe before May 15 you receive two free orchestra seats to the show of your choice. What a great way to introduce friends to the Music Hall!
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2005