Reviewed by George Basler
The classic musical Anything Goes is a production that shows its age in ways that are both good and bad.
On the good side is a spectacular score by the great Cole Porter that is filled with nuggets from the golden age of the Great American Song Book. Your ears are treated to “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “You’re the Top,” “Easy to Love,” “It’s De-Lovely” and “Anything Goes,” all before intermission!
On the flip side is a plot that was supremely silly when the show first opened in 1934 and has now dated badly to the point of being moldy beyond belief.
Both aspects are on full display in the SPARE Productions’ offering that opened Friday (July 26) at the Endicott Performing Arts Center and will run through the weekend.
The show, directed by Matt Gaska, is energetic and enjoyable with a spirited cast of young performers bringing great verve to Porter’s classic songs.
But the show sputters toward the end as the plot wears more than thin and loses its fizz. That’s a shame because, before its rather desultory ending, the SPARE production has its share of fine performances and fine moments.
Particularly impressive are two outstanding ensemble numbers, staged by Gaska and choreographer Alery Patton. One is “Anything Goes,” a spectacular tap dance number that closes Act I. The other is “Blow Gabriel Blow,” which rocks Act II. The large cast blows the roof off EPAC in both numbers.
The plot is essentially a spoof of the inane behavior of the moneyed upper crust, as well as the public’s preoccupation with celebrity. The likely struck a nerve with Depression-era audiences of the mid-1930s. These days, though, the satire is insubstantial and cliched.
In fact, the book has gone through revisions over the years. The original book was a collaborative effort by Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse. It was later heavily revised by the team of Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse. It was again revised in the 1980s by John Weidman and Timothy Crouse.
The story takes place on an ocean liner traveling from New York to London. Billy Crocker (Trevor Terry) has stowed away to be near the object of his affection, Hope Harcourt (Katelyn Rundell), who is being pushed into marriage with an English lord (Jonathan Zareski) by her money-hungry mother (Jada Newman). The mother, in turn, is being pursued by Elisha J. Whitney (Corey Brady), a successful Wall Street financier who, to put in mildly, likes his liquor.
Did you get that?
Other passengers include Reno Sweeney (Tomiko Nicholson), a nightclub entertainer who has been carrying a torch for Billy; “Moonface” Martin, aka Public Enemy Number 13 (Patrick Kerley), and Moonface’s moll, Erma (Adriana Kabat) who, to put it mildly, likes to get around.
The main characters receive solid support from a large ensemble playing other passengers and crew members. The SPARE cast members play their roles with the right touch of over-the-top humor and downright silliness.
The best part of the show is obviously Porter’s score that, unlike the book, has lost none of its sparkle and ingenuity over the years. The SPARE cast does a first-rate job putting across the songs.
As Reno Sweeney, Nicholson give a knockout performance. The role anchors the show and originally made Ethel Merman a star. Nicholson is bold and brassy and belts out her songs with a booming voice and panache.
Terry brings a nice boy-meets-girl quality to the role of Billy. Rundell is sweetly appealing in the ingenue role of Hope. Their duet, “All Through the Night,” is done in fine style.
Kerley and Kabat do fine, funny turns in their roles as the hapless gangster and his moll. Kerley pulls out all the stops in a comic number, “Be Like the Bluebird,” in Act II. Likewise, Zareski, as the English lord, is delightfully giddy in his performing his big number, “The Gypsy is Me.” Brady, meanwhile, does a fine turn as the drunken financier.
The SPARE production is, on balance, likable and will leave you smiling. And listening to the Porter songbook is a great way to spend an evening.
IF YOU GO: Anything Goes will be performed at 7 p.m. today and 2 p.m. Sunday (July 27 and 28) at EPAC, 102 Washington Ave., Endicott. Tickets are $15 ($12 for seniors and children). To purchase, visit endicottarts.com