Sunday, August 26, 2012

THEATRE REVIEW: "Anything Goes" at Moonlight Stage Productions

“Anything Goes” is light, fluffy fun:
Its high jinks on the high seas in Moonlight’s sleek, well-staged revival

By Donnie Matsuda

“Times have changed…” sings former evangelist turned slinky nightclub singer Reno Sweeney at the top of the musical’s oh-so-famous title number.  

And while truer words have never been spoken - or in this case, sung - there is one thing that will never change: the Cole Porter confection known as Anything Goes will continue to entertain and delight audiences no matter what circumstances surround its revival (and this popular musical has been revived *a lot* since it premiered on Broadway in 1934, including its most recent revival on the Great White Way in 2011 with Sutton Foster and its upcoming 2012 U.S. national tour starring Rachel York).  In fact, Anything Goes was tied with “Guys and Dolls” as the tenth most frequently produced musical in U.S. high schools in 2007 and it truly is a show that America gets a kick out of time and time again.

Jeffrey Scott Parsons and Courtney Fero in Moonlight's "Anything Goes."  Photo by Ken Jacques.
The musical’s everlasting appeal has a lot to do with it’s de-licious, de-lectable, and oh so de-lovely score which bounces through such bright, toe-tapping tunes as “You’re the Top,” “Friendship,” “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” “I Get a Kick Out of You,” and the show-stopping title number, “Anything Goes.”  And while its mostly plot-less book and ridiculous cast of roustabout characters add absolutely nothing to its charm, in fact they serve more as leaden anchors that weigh down an otherwise forward-moving boatload of Cole Porter standards, there is something to be admired about a musical that gets audiences smiling and humming its tunes at the mere mention of the show’s title.

The Company of "Anything Goes."  Photo by Ken Jacques.
Moonlight’s current revival, which follows the 1987 revival libretto to a tee, is buoyed by some sparkling performances and some truly lovely singing.  At the helm of it all is a dazzling and delightful Tracy Lore as Reno Sweeney.  Lore has the bold and brassy voice that is required for the role (her voice is a sweeter, softer version of the late, great Ethel Merman) and she’s also pretty hot stuff – or is it “hot pants”? – in the steps department, too, frequently kicking up her heels and leading the tap-tastic ensemble cast in many of the show’s splashy musical numbers.  As her young love interest, Wall Street banker Billy Crocker, Jeffrey Scott Parsons simply shines.  He’s got the dashing good looks, soaring tenor voice, and a smooth soft shoe that make him Moonlight’s “go-to” guy whenever they need a leading man for their large and lavish tap-dance musicals (he was recently seen here as Bobby Child in “Crazy for You” and as Billy Lawlor in “42nd Street”).  And as his love interest, the prim Hope Harcourt, Courtney Fero is a satisfying study in proper manners and understated charm.

Tracy Lore and Company.  Photo by Ken Jacques.
The large supporting cast of inane characters provides plenty of fodder for ace comic acting.  In particular, Barry Pearl is “tops” when it comes to the silly shenanigans of Moonface Martin, the second-rate gangster posing as a minister, and Hannah Balagot is deliciously droll as his partner in crime, the nasal-voiced, sailor-and-scene-stealing moll, Erma.  Also amusing are Dagmar Krause Fields as stuffy and staunch socialite Mrs. Evangeline Harcourt, Nick Tubbs as the bumbling Brit who can’t quite get the hang of American idioms, Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, and Joel W. Gossett as proud Yale man and Wall Street tycoon Elisha J. Whitney.

Hannah Balagot and Company.  Photo by Ken Jacques.
Director and choreographer Jon Engstrom knows how to stage these big and bold tap-heavy musicals (he recently helmed Moonlight’s splashy staging of “42nd Street”) so that they dazzle the eye and energize the spirit of everyone watching.  While his smart direction and snappy choreography take a long time to gel with the choppy writing and the campy character of the piece, once all the moving parts kick into gear by the showy Act 1 finale, it is full steam ahead with a tight and breezy Act 2.  And here, he’s working with a top-notch creative team, including expert musical director Justin Gray, veteran conductor Ken Gammie, and master set designer N. Dixon Fish (whose three-tiered, custom-designed ocean liner set is truly a glorious sight to behold).

The Company of "Anything Goes."  Photo by Ken Jacques.
Without a doubt, the time is right for Moonlight to bring back a much revered relic of the musical theatre cannon.  And while among the elite class of show-stopping tap-dancing musicals, Anything Goes may not be “the top,” it certainly is a show that audiences of all ages will appreciate as a de-lovely showcase of Cole Porter’s most memorable and tuneful hits.           
Things to know before you go: Anything Goes plays at Moonlight Stage Production’s Amphitheatre through September 8, 2012.  Running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes with a 15 minute intermission.  Performances are Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 8pm.  Tickets are $15-$50.  For more information or to purchase tickets, call (760) 724-2110 or visit

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