Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, August, 1999
The only sure thing about the existing version of "Anything Goes" is that Cole Porter wrote the music and lyrics. He didn't write all of them for the original "Anything Goes" which opened in Broadway in 1934, but he did write them. Beyond that this show has been written and re-written and re-re-written, with Porter songs from other shows and movies interpolated into the mix, until it is really a Greatest Hits review wrapped in a superbly silly script.
It is hard to miss with "Anything Goes". The songs are the best American musical comedy has to offer, and the book is just plain funny. The Mac-Haydn production certainly has energy and there is talent on the stage, but the production values are so far off as to be embarassing, which drags down what is actually good to the level of a good amateur production.
In case you are one of the three Americans and one squirrel who hasn't seen or performed in "Anything Goes" (hands up everyone whose high school did this show), I will give you a brief plot synopsis. A ship is setting sail from New York to the British Isles. All the following people get on board: Billy Crocker loves Hope Harcourt, but she is engaged to Sir Evelyn Oakleigh. Former evangelist turned nightclub singer Reno Sweeney is kind of sweet on Billy, but one look at Sir Evelyn, a certified British Twit if there ever was one, and she sings "I Get a Kick Out of You". Public enemies numbers one and thirteen are fleeing America with their moll, Bonnie. Public enemy number one misses the boat, but Bonnie and public enemy number thirteen, Moonface Martin, disguised as a priest who has done missionary work in China, board and give their extra ticket to Billy, who has boarded as a stowaway to prevent Hope's marriage. Along the way Billy's boss loses his glasses, Reno hosts a revival meeting, two Chinamen hold craps games in third class, and everyone sings and dances at the drop of a hat.
What is good? Patti McClure as Reno Sweeney; Rob Richardson as Billy Crocker; Karla Shook as Bonnie; Chris Taylor as Moonface Martin; and Timothy Kennedy as Sir Evelyn Oakleigh. McClure and Richardson were solid entertainers in the Mac-Haydn's boffo production of "42nd Street" and they come through again here. Taylor, Shook, and Kennedy are members of the permanent 1999 Mac-Haydn company, and they have been seen in supporting roles throughout the summer - sometimes successfully and sometimes not so successfully. It is nice to see these three young hopefuls hit their stride in comic roles that suit them well.
What drags all this down? The costumes!! I rarely advocate murder, but I heartily endorse allowing Reno Sweeney's Angels - Charity (Emily Mackel), Purity (Trisha Stever), Chastity (Kelly Shook), and Virtue (Bonnie Estes) - to take costume designer Jamie Bullins into the woods and off him. They can take Moonface Martin's machine gun and do him in for forcing them to wear hideous, unflattering costumes and shop-worn wigs! We don't expect Vegas-style glamour from Mac-Haydn chorines, but these are good looking young women who deserve costumes that fit and flatter.
But frankly there are very few costumes in this show that fit or flattered. Costumes aren't usually what makes or breaks a show, but when all you can talk about at intermission is how horrible the costumes are, you're in trouble. I hate to say it, but I think the Mac-Haydn blew its entire costume budget on the 250 drop-dead gorgeous costumes for "42nd Street" and was forced to cram everyone into whatever they could find in their costume vault which (almost) fit them. And none of them were of the right period. In fact most of them weren't of any discernable period at all. There was an awful lot of polyester on that stage.
Perhaps it is better to just close your eyes because the singing is great and the jokes are funny. Certainly, if you can overlook ill-fitting polyester costumes which need mending, this production is a lot of fun. If it wasn't the Mac-Haydn would have really missed the boat!
"Anything Goes" is running through August 22 at the Mac-Haydn Theatre, located off Rt. 203 in Chatham, NY. The show runs two and a half hours with one intermission. Call the box office at 518-392-9292 for tickets and information.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 1999