Escondido, CA---Although dated, Cole Porter’s 1934 musical (music and lyrics) “Anything Goes” (book by Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse and revised by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse), now on stage at the Welk Theatre San Diego through March23rd, still has curb… er shore appeal for those looking for adventures on the high seas.
The exception being that these adventures or capers are a bit unusual, to say the least. And while Porter’s tunes fit the ‘story by committee’ well, the book is a bit of a hodge podge.
We’re talking guys and dolls…read gangstas or Public Enemy #13 or Moonface (Shaun Leslie Thomas) disguised a clergy, a crew of sailors that can tap up a storm, a puffed up businessman, Elisha J. Whitney (Ken Salzman), a pair of lovers Hope and Evelyn (Rachel Davis and RC Sands) her money hungry mother Mrs. Harcourt (Robin La Valley), ex-evangelist turned cabaret singer, Reno Sweeney (Natalie Nucci) and her woeful lover Billy Crocker (Joshua Carr) a real live dog and Reno’s not so angelic Angels appropriately named Purity, Chastity, Charity and Virtue. Ahh. The list goes on.
The caper unfolds easily enough when Billy Crocker, ‘a broken down broker’ (by his own words) and flunky to Wall Street tycoon and buffoon, Elisha J. Whitney drops off some documents (but forgot the passport) to Whitney, who is sailing aboard the USS America for England the next day.
As Billy is leaving to get the passport he runs into Reno Sweeney an old acquaintance. Reno is smitten for Billy but Billy is head over heels hooked on the wealthy Hope Harcourt, with whom he spent an evening. Woe is Billy since Hope is engaged to the stuffy and clueless British Nobleman Lord Evelyn Oakleigh. Billy’s boss, frustrated with his antics, fires him and sends him scurrying off the ship.
Billy and Hope run into each other on the ramp (he going, she coming) where he learns that she is to be married. Leaving no stones unturned, he makes up his mind to become a stow away. There, he decides he can be close to Hope, hoping that he can persuade her to change her mind. All hope rather hell breaks loose when it is learned that criminal #13 is hiding somewhere on the ship.
Billy gets tangled in that mess, it becomes a free for all with everyone either running to or from someone, hiding from or disguised as someone else. It’s madcap hide and seek. Before the ship lands in England, you guessed it; it becomes a real love fest for all involved.
The gags are the ‘gimme a break’ kind, and the one-liners are lodged in the ‘30s vernacular where most are politically incorrect (“Why would I marry her, I respect her too much”… that kind) and could easily be cut entirely from the show without anyone noticing a thing.
Aside from the fact that those at the Sun. matinee I attended most likely still remember Milton Berle, I doubt the younger generation will have a clue.
It matters not however when Cole Porter’s music is at stake and that’s exactly what entertains in this 80 year old gem. Its Broadway revival garnered a Tony for Sutton Foster who played Reno Sweeney.
In between the all the comings and goings star power kicks in and Joshua Carr is one charming and talented Billy Crocker. Albeit a bit shall we say, mature for the role, he can still dance with the best of them. He can sing and he can act and after 17 years of being behind the scenes, (producer, theatre manager) he can still strut his stuff. In fact for tap dance lovers, it’s a party.
Natalie Nucci is another experienced talent taking center stage. Recently seen in the Welk’s production of “Chicago”, Nucci is a bright star both as comedienne and song and dance champ. As Reno she has the right look and way about her that convinces although her voice sounded a bit muffled in the higher registers (Patrick Hoyne’s sound design could be a bit more modulated).
Evangelist turned cabaret singer, Nucci’s evangelist background is a set up for a perfect scene stealer as she belts out her “Blow Gabriel, Blow” in one of the showstopper/production numbers done to perfection with E. Y. Washington dancing in silhouette. Her duo with Thomas in “Friendship” is another that solidifies the pair as top-notch performers. Porter’s tunes just keep on giving.
Thomas (who played Billis in Welk’s “South Pacific”) is such a pro and oh! so funny as ‘the funny man’ in this production. He is the backbone of the comedic goings on. He gets all the bigger than life gags and he is more than up to the task. He's a pro and his timing is perfect as is his body language especially when he sings "Be Like the Bluebird". It's a laugh out loud moment.
He is just what the doctor ordered injecting some loony tune humor as ‘anything goes’ in "Anything Goes". His sidekick Bonnie (April Henry) ads another female touch of goofiness and she hits the jackpot with more comic relief and she can dance with the best of them.
Rachel Davis’ Hope, was a little tentative in the beginning, has the right talent as the sought after debutant (“De-Lovely”) and Robin La Valley is perfect as the overbearing mother. RC Sands is appropriately stuffy as Lord Evelyn but at times looked more like a babbling idiot than a Lord, but how would I know?
Musical Director Justin Gray and his four musicians highlight Porter’s music, although at times the brass section was too loud.
The combination of Cole Porter’s wonderful “I Get a Kick Out of You”, “You’re the Top”, “It’s De-lovely”, “Friendship” “Anything Goes” and “All Through the Night” and director/choreographer Ray Limon excellent choreography with picture perfect period dress coordinated by Janet Pitcher and Jennifer Edwards wonderful lighting design with Martin Willis Raymondo’s Art Deco set still makes “Anything Goes” a show stopper.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through March 23rd
Organization: Welk Theatre San Diego
Production Type: Musical
Where: 8890 Lawrence Welk Drive, Escondido
Ticket Prices: $45.00-$48.00
Venue: Welk Resorts Theatre