What’s not to love? Arena Stage’s new production of Anything Goes has it all – those wonderful Cole Porter songs, mind-boggling dance numbers, gorgeous costumes, humor delivered with perfect timing, and, of course an uber talented cast that does justice to this iconic Broadway musical.
The story line for Anything Goes is predictable – boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back. The plot plays out on the SS American, a luxurious ocean liner en route from New York to London. The “boy” is Billy Crocker, a young Wall Street broker and errand boy for Eli Whitney who goes to the dock to say goodbye to his boss and spies the “girl” of his dreams, socialite Hope Harcourt. Billy decides to stow away on board hoping that a long boat ride will give him the chance to win back his love. When he finds out that Hope is engaged to marry a wealthy Brit, Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, he knows his task just became harder. Hope’s father died during the crash and the young woman is being pressured by her mother to marry Oakleigh to restore the family’s finances and social standing. Also traveling on board is Reno Sweeney, a nightclub singer who has feelings for Billy. The criminal element is represented by “Moonface” Martin (his designation as “Public Enemy 13” a sign of his dubious standing among his peers), and his girlfriend, Erma.
The overture (William Yanesh conducting the orchestra), creates anticipation for all those Porter songs. And we don’t have long to wait, with Reno (Soara-Joye Ross) stating her feelings for Billy with “I Get a Kick Out of You.” A few songs later, Billy returns the favor singing to Reno “You’re the Top.” Porter’s clever lyrics just seem to get better with age. And based upon conversations between younger audience members overheard during intermission, he may have picked up a few new fans.
But most of the snippets I heard were about the musical’s star Corbin Bleu, best known for playing Chad Danforth in Disney’s Emmy Award-winning High School Musical franchise. And his performance as Billy more than earned those accolades. Bleu, who has won many awards for his dancing, was a force. In this production, whether tapping, leaping, or waltzing, he commands attention (not an easy feat when surrounded in group numbers). Besides his dancing, he does justice to Porter’s tunes with his vocals. His two numbers (“It’s De-Lovely” and “All Through the Night”) with Hope Harcourt, played by a delightful Lisa Helmi Johanson, are romantic interludes that slow down the action and remind us that, at its core, Anything Goes is about love.
The vocalist playing Reno Sweeney has the opportunity, as well as the responsibility, to do justice to the show’s title song, as well as the show-stopping “Blow, Gabriel, Blow.” That Ross has to sing while also dancing during the tunes doesn’t seem to harm her energy level at all. Kudos to Parker Esse who choreographed the show and manages to use Arena’s round Fichandler Stage very well.
Stephen DeRosa and Soara-Joye Ross
Anything Goes provides many juicy roles for supporting players. Whether singing Yale fight songs or cuddling his stuffed bulldog, Thomas Adrian Simpson’s Eli Whitney manages to create a quirky character that stops short of becoming a cliché. And his courting of Evangeline Harcourt (Lisa Tejero), is fun to watch unfold. Jimmy Ray Bennett is hilarious when he sheds Oakleigh’s stiff bearing in “The Gypsy in Me.” As Moonface Martin, Stephen DeRosa not only knows how to deliver a zinger, but his facial expressions and body language add to the enjoyment. Maria Rizzo (Erma) reminds us why she is one of D.C.’s most popular actors. Her “Buddie, Beware,” is one for the ages. Bravo!
Nicholas Yenson, Maria Rizzo, and Mickey Orange
A talented ensemble enhances the production’s centerpiece dance numbers. They include: Julio Catano-Yee, Ben Gunderson, Jonathan Holmes, Brent McBeth, Allie O’Donnell, Mickey Orange, Lizz Picini, Kristyn Pope, Christopher Shin, Brett Uram, Demoya Watson Brown, Andrea Weinzierl, Nicholas Yenson. And two canines share the role of Cheeky – Maximilian Moonshine and Olly.
Costume designs by Alejo Vietti are elegant and period perfect. (Where can we buy these gowns?!) Hair and wig design by Charles G. Lapointe complement rather than detract from each actor’s appearance.
Arena’s Artistic Director Molly Smith, who directs, set out to create a diverse cast for this production. She has done just that. We like to think that Cole Porter would have approved.
Top photo: Lisa Helmi Johanson and Corbin Bleu
Photos by Maria Baranova
Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter
Directed y Molly Smith
1101 Sixth Street, SW