We need a fun musical now and D.C.’s Arena Stage is delivering just that with a rollicking production of Anything Goes, featuring classic Cole Porter songs. Lisa Helmi Johanson plays Hope Harcourt, a debutante who is about to get married, but meeting someone else on board a cruise ships changes all that. In an interview with Woman Around Town’s Charlene Giannetti Lisa talks about her career, how she’s managed to amass a collection of musical instruments, and how Arena’s production of Anything Goes has been updated with a multi-cultural cast that will resonate with audiences in the nation’s capital. Lisa is playing Hope at a time when we need just that.
It’s a great time for a feel good musical so The Little Theatre of Alexandria’s production of Anything Goes opened on January 14 to a full house and an enthusiastic audience. The talented cast made the most of Cole Porter’s “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “Let’s Misbehave,” and, of course, “Anything Goes,” songs that are almost a hundred years old but remain timeless.
Mara Stewart and James Maxted
With songs this good, the story takes a back seat. The original book was a collaborative effort by Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse, heavily revised by the team of Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse. Billy Crocker, a young Wall Street broker, is a stowaway aboard an ocean liner bound from New York to London. He’s in love with heiress Hope Harcourt (Tori Garcia), who is engaged to the stuffy British Evelyn Oakleigh. Billy is aided in his quest to win Hope by Reno Sweeney, a nightclub singer, and Moonface Martin, otherwise known as Public Enemy #13. There are high jinks on the high sea including mistaken identities, a con bilking passengers out of money, and, for Billy, time in the brig.
The role of Reno Sweeney always attracts singers with big voices (Patti LuPone, Sutton Foster, and Stephanie J. Block, on Broadway, for example). Mara Stewart, appearing at LTA for the first time, makes the kind of impression that will certainly lead to future roles. Her performance raises the bar and the rest of the cast is quick to respond, including Marshall Cesena (Billy Crocker), Ken Kemp (Moonface Martin) and James Maxted (Sir Evelyn Oakleigh). Cesna and Kemp have a great rapport. Their banter while slap-stick is believable, appropriate for this age-old show. As Moon Face’s girlfriend, Bonnie, Jacqueline Salvador adds comic relief. Reno’s angels, providing excellent backup singing, include Caitlyn Goerner, Ashley Kaplan, Katie Mallory and Elizabeth Spilsbury.
The cast performs “Let’s Step Out.”
Tap dancing fans get their fix with the lively performance of “Let’s Step Out,” featuring the Angels and the sailors played by Michael Gale, Ricardo Coleman, Kurtis Carter and Andrew Sese.
LTA continues to pull out all the stops with its sets, this one depicting the cruise liner, SS American, as well as perfectly detailed state rooms. Bravo to the lighting team for distinguishing day and night. The seven-piece orchestra hits all the right notes without overshadowing the performances.
Photos by Keith Waters for Kx Photography
Top photo: Ken Kemp (Moonface Martin), Mara Stewart (Reno Sweeney), Marshall Cesena (Billy Crocker).
“Anything Goes” runs through February 4, 2016 at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street, Alexandria, VA 22314. For more information, visit www.littletheatre.com or call the Box Office at 703-683-0496.