Anything Goes

Music and lyrics by Cole Porter
Book by Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse, Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse
Directed by Chris Cardoni
At the Turtle Lane Theatre, Newton, MA. -- May to June

Reviewed by G.L. Horton

Congratulations to the Turtle Lane Theatre for a bang-up "Anything Goes". Opening night was a treat, musically, and the show will get better and better as the cast settles in to the fun of the run. The Cole Porter songs -- and the dance music too -- they're The Top. Strong singers are the production's strong suit, but Wayne Ward's six piece on- stage orchestra with the right licks and Ronald Dion's impressive three-level ocean liner set that seems to triple the Turtle Lane's playing space are plusses, too. I have some reservations about Richard Itzak's costuming -- too "Classic" for my taste -- but the clothes are colorful and stylish and move well.

Big bouquets of praise are owed to choreographer Tina Combs. Her routines look spectacular enough to elicit applause in all the right places, and yet are simple enough to be executed with ease and comfort by a cast that appears to range in age from fourteen to the upper fifties. There's plenty of quotation from the roaring twenties, bits of the Castle walk, the Charleston and the Black Bottom to put the show's conventions in context. Combs' bio says that "Anything Goes" is one of her favorite shows, and its easy to believe that she has thought long and lovingly about it. Her dances set period and tone, define character, advance the plot, and make the musical structure visible -- all with the most economical of means.

The 1935 book of "Anything Goes" was notoriously thrown together at the last minute by Howard Lindsay & Russell Crouse to replace a first version by Guy Bolton & P.G. Wodehouse that had to be jettisoned during rehearsal. So what about character and plot? Well, such as they are..... "Anything Goes" is the story of Billy Crocker, (Richard Repetta) an attractive young man employed on Wall Street who has connections with the naughty world of night clubs and gangsters. (The script was revised for a 1960's revival, but the attitudes of the Speakeasy cliques of are deeply embedded in its soul). Billy fell in love with Hope (Donna Parry), an upper-class deb, at a party, and spent the night necking with her in a taxi. But he lost touch with his lady love when she fled at dawn without leaving her name address and serial number behind. Seeing Hope again by chance as she is about to sail for England on an ocean liner -- along with her dragon of a mother (Suki Caivano) and her titled twit of a fiancee, Sir Evelyn Oakleigh -- Billy decides to stow away and win the lady's hand. Billy enlists in his efforts Moonface Martin, a gangster who is disguised as a Protestant missionary, Moonie's moll Bonnie; and his old and dear friend Reno Sweeny, a celebrated nightclub entertainer who is also a fire-and-brimstone evangelist. (!)

Billy and his cohorts are all deft and de-lightful, but Jennifer Condon Gagnon's cute-as-a-button Bonnie probably deserves the most praise. Her tap numbers, "Heaven Hop" and "Let's Step Out" are stereotypical but tricky, with tessitura in Betty Boop territory, and Gagnon tosses them at the audience as if they were roses. Adam Brown's Moonface -- although definitely angular rather than round -- is a winning loser. Repetta proves a treasure of a leading man. As Billy, he trades on the casual charisma he brought to the Turtle Lane's "Diamond Studs", but adds fine comic timing and a sure sense of how to put over a Porter ballad.

Reno Sweeny is a star part -- it made a star of Ethel Merman -- and Laurie Davidson brings clarity and power to Reno's songs, wit to her line readings, and hoofs it like a pro. Her Reno isn't quite there yet, though. Davidson needs a stronger connection to the people around her in her dialogue scenes, so that she can launch her numbers from the impetus of the emotions she expresses so well once she is into them.

Joshua Kenberg has a similar problem with Sir Evelyn. Kenberg is doing all the right things: he is funny and endearing and within a tad of being an absolutely ideal Sir Evelyn, but the vital longing to make connections and "misbehave" that's beneath the character's absurd stiff-upper doesn't get through and affect his scene partners. People, this is a naughty show. Lust is "De-lovely" here, and Porter's songs have nothing but praise for sin of all sorts---gambling, drinking, dope, dancing, necking, fornicating, murder and robbing banks-- well, maybe some reservations about murder and robbing banks -- all of it fun, fun, fun. Be merry, brethren and sistern. Your characters have survived so far (at least to the middle of the Great Depression) but at any moment Gabriel may Blow his Horn -- and the question on Judgment Day isn't Did you play by the rules? but Did you savor and celebrate? The only vice that gets thorough disapproval in "Anything Goes" is the inauthenticity of celebrity worship.

If in these dreary days of downsizing there are still theatre-goers who are top dogs and can afford the price of a ticket -- at Turtle lane, that's a bargain, about twice the price of a first-run movie and less than half what a "downtown" show sets you back--- they can buy in with confidence; and settle back in their seats to revel freely in Porter's hymns to hedonism secure in the knowledge that everybody at Turtle Lane, on-stage and off, is reveling too.