Los Angeles Theater Review: ANYTHING GOES (Ahmanson Theatre)

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by Jesse David Corti on December 8, 2012

in Theater-Los Angeles


Jesse David Corti’s Stage and Cinema review of Anything Goes at the Ahmanson in Los AngelesWhile it is refreshing that Cole Porter is experiencing a revival, it is unfortunate that the timeless brilliance of his music is attached to musicals whose books are mediocre at best and dated, most certainly. The challenge for the director handling a Porter musical is to manage these disparate elements in a fashion that is engaging and entertaining while somehow presenting something that resonates in a manner both unexpected and rich. Kathleen Marshall’s direction of Anything Goes provides fabulous production values but only fair entertainment; it’s diversionary but superfluous.

Jesse David Corti’s Stage and Cinema review of Anything Goes at the Ahmanson in Los AngelesThe sea-set story’s action starts when Billy Crocker lands on a celebrity-filled ocean-liner headed for England as an unintentional stowaway. He discovers that the woman he is madly in love with, Hope Harcourt, is also onboard—but she is engaged to be married to the wealthy but daffy Brit, Sir Evelyn Oakleigh. Hope’s mother, Evangeline Harcourt will do everything in her power to ensure that her daughter marries the very rich Oakleigh. Also on board is Reno Sweeney, a nightclub Queen who holds a special fondness for Billy, and decides to help him win his girl over. Meanwhile, notorious gangster Moonface Martin and his partner in crime, Erma, have secretly boarded the boat hoping to escape the heat by going abroad. Billy and Moonface’s fate become intertwined when the search starts to find the stowaway described as Public Enemy Number One—comedy erupts, truths are revealed, and anything goes.

Jesse David Corti’s Stage and Cinema review of Anything Goes at the Ahmanson in Los AngelesRachel York stars as saucy nightclub vixen Reno Sweeney and makes the peculiar choice to be like Mae West not Ethel Merman. Some double entendres are delivered better in the Mae West style, but in regards to the whole role it doesn’t pay off because the piece calls for her to be zesty and vibrant, and Ms. York plays it willfully languorous and laid-back. She shows off some lovely tapping with “Anything Goes” and shines best on “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” with her singing, dancing, and sultry character aligning best with her cheeky smile, razzle-dazzle dancing, and full-bodied singing. Though her singing voice penetrates wonderfully, her interpretation on the whole lacks considerably. For example, with the first song out of the gate, “I Get A Kick Out of You,” she knocks out the notes, but sings it too leisurely and her choreography in that number is composed of either sitting on a barstool or sauntering slowly around Billy Crocker—the dichotomy between the bouncy song and the stationary staging is bizarre.

Jesse David Corti’s Stage and Cinema review of Anything Goes at the Ahmanson in Los AngelesFred Applegate’s Moonface Martin is very funny; his faces and punchline deliveries generate the most well-earned laughs by far, and what his singing lacks in ability, he makes up for with great comic acting and pleasant tapping. Erich Bergen plays Billy Crocker with a sublime ease whether it’s singing, dancing, or acting. Joyce Chittick’s Erma steals scenes every time she steps on the stage and gets her chance to strut her stuff and shine with the support of some muscular sailors on “Buddie Beware.” Alex Finke plays Hope Harcourt in an overly whiny fashion and, as such, it is difficult to root for her star-crossed romance with Billy Crocker. But the best performer of the lot is Edward Staudenmayer in the role of Lord Evelyn Oakleigh. He makes the audience guffaw loudly with his fearlessness and commitment. His lone song “The Gypsy in Me” is the best part of the show; it’s hilarious, heartfelt, and surprising in all the right ways.

Jesse David Corti’s Stage and Cinema review of Anything Goes at the Ahmanson in Los AngelesThe technical aspects of the show are excellent. The late Martin Pakledinaz’s costumes make every performer look great and showcase the very best of the 1930s fashion. Derek McClane’s scenic design is sleek and complements the performers beautifully as they perform on a boat, inside their cabins, and inside a grand ballroom. Jay Alger leads a tight orchestra; the music bounces with great life and the dynamics are superb. Kathleen Marshall’s choreography is wholly inconsistent; sometimes the staging and dancing is flat and vapid (“You’re The Top”, “I Get a Kick Out of You”), and sometimes it’s splendid and vivacious (“Blow, Gabriel, Blow”, “The Gypsy in Me”). Overall, the performers are quite capable, and it’s confounding that some numbers are under-realized when others are realized so well.

Anything Goes is a beautifully decorated timepiece with a handful of great performers, and though Cole Porter’s songbook is a delight to listen to in Act One, someone needs to throw Act Two a life preserver. Yes, there are fun elements, but not enough to justify seeing this production.

photos by Joan Marcus

Anything Goes
Center Theatre Group at the Ahmanson Theatre
scheduled to end January 6, 2013
for tickets call (213) 972-4400 www.centertheatregroup.org


{ 1 comment }

Joanne April 24, 2013 at 7:32 am

My daughter and I had the pleasure of seeing this wonderful musical last night. My daughter is the real musical fan, but I like going with her and I’m so glad I did. I absolutely loved it.

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