It’s 2014, the start of a new theatre year, and the Welk Theatre San Diego starts the new season off right with a scrumptious production of Cole Porter’s Anything Goes as the dessert for its buffet lunch or dinner.
As Mr. Porter’s most produced musical, Anything Goes has been revised multiple times and its score has been tampered with to add songs that Mr. Porter wrote for other shows. I’m not certain which version is being used here, but it’s not the one – based on the 2011 Broadway revival – that has been touring (and performed in Costa Mesa in September).
In this version, the SS American is about to depart New York for an Atlantic crossing to Great Britain. Among those boarding are Hope Harcourt (Rachel Davis), her mother (Robin La Valley), and her fiancé, Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (RC Sands). Entertainer Reno Sweeney (Natalie Nucci) and her four “angels” (Jeni Baker, Lindsay Kristine Anderson, Tara Shoemaker, and Allyson Spiegelman) are on board heading for their debut in London. Banker Elisha J. Whitney (Ken Salzman) is a last-minute addition to the passenger list, and his affairs are being attending to by his assistant, Billy Crocker (Joshua Carr).
Billy, as it turns out, knows both Reno and Hope, and he had taken a shine to the latter, much to the distress of the former. When Billy learns that Hope is going to be married, he steals away on the ship, needing to adopt several disguises and align himself with the gangster, “Moonface” Martin (Shaun Leslie Thomas), and his accomplice, Bonnie (April Henry). Don’t ask why; just go with it.
As you might suspect, the plot becomes extremely silly, and the evening is rescued by performances of many of Mr. Porter’s most beloved standards: “I Get A Kick Out of You,” “All Through The Night,” “You’re the Top,” “Blow, Gabriel Blow,” “The Gypsy in Me,” and of course, the title song.
Director/Choreographer Ray Limon just received a Craig Noel Award nomination for his direction of the Welk’s recent production of Chicago, and he’s back in fine form here. He’s ably abetted by casting his Chicago star, Ms. Nucci, as Reno and his real-life partner, Mr. Carr, as Billy. They make a well-matched pair, and they stylishly execute Mr. Limon’s intricate staging of the musical numbers. Ms. Davis and Ms. Henry also show off nice voices and an easy manner with their songs.
But, it is the ensemble, particularly the men (Charles Feuerstine, Christopher Valentine, E. Y. Washington, Kevin McDonald, and Paul Stine) who make the evening, with precise execution of Mr. Limon’s choreography. The big tap numbers, such as the “Anything Goes” Act 1 closer, are worth the price of admission by themselves. [php snippet=1]In fact, the musical numbers satisfy to such a great degree that you can easily forgive the draggy book scenes, which, unfortunately, appear far too often. These often fall to Mr. Salzman, Mr. Sands, Ms. La Valley, and Mr. Thomas to carry, and they try to liven the proceedings by playing “big.” Doing so can satisfy in the short run but also leave a sour taste when one thinks back on the experience.
But, Anything Goes is intended as dessert, so the frothier and the sweeter the better, I guess. In any case, it should delight Welk audiences for the next couple of months.