Saturday, June 14, 2008


Porthouse’s ‘ANYTHING GOES’ is summer theatre at its best! Go! Go! Go!

Cole Porter’s ‘ANYTHING GOES,’ now on stage in a delightful production at Porthouse Theatre, is one of those shows that shouldn’t be, but is. And, it shouldn’t be as much fun as it is at Porthouse, but it also, is!

The original producer, Vinton Freedley, who lived on a boat, decided to make a musical based on his experiences. He hired a star, Ethel Merman, and had the musical ‘HARD TO GET’ written. The title changed numerous times, finally becoming ‘ANYTHING GOES.’

Just before the show opened, a fire destroyed the passenger ship SS Morro Castle. As a result of the deaths of 137, most of the original script was trashed and a new version written. This creation was called “a hopeless mess” by one theatre historian. So, more versions were attempted during the preview performances, with songs, characters and plots coming and going.

Legend has it that things were so bad that the night before the show opened the script was incomplete. A member of the production team supposedly said, “And just how in the hell are we going to end the first act?" The producer, being more helpful than he realized, said "anything goes!" Porter went into action, and, one of the great musical theatre production numbers was born. (The number is nothing short of astounding in the Porthouse production under the chorographic genius of MaryAnn Black).

‘ANYTHING GOES’ opened in New York in 1934 at the height of the depression and it ran 420 performances, becoming the fourth longest-running musical of the 1930s. This, despite the impact of the Great Depression.

A 1936 movie starring Ethel Merman and Bing Crosby, a television version staring Merman and Frank Sinatra, and numerous revivals have followed.

This is not a great musical. The story line is trite, songs have been added and deleted with no real reason, which is an indication that this is not a well-made musical in which the songs and the story are so intertwined that one supports the other. For example, “Easy To Love” one of the present show’s hits, was not in the original nor the 1962 production, but was written for a 1987 revival. “Friendship” also was not in the original. In fact it written for ‘DUBARRY WAS A LADY,’ but it, too, was put into the 1987 production.

To add an issue…Porter, a wordsmith, wrote very clever lyrics, but they contain 1930’s references, unknown to many present day audience. Worry not, it makes little difference.

The story is set aboard a luxury liner bound for London and concerns Billy Crocker's comic pursuit of socialite Hope Harcourt as he hides aboard the ship on which she is traveling with her English fiancé. The plot is enlivened with nightclub evangelist Reno Sweeney and the real and supposed public enemies sought by the captain to spice up the voyage.

The Porthouse production, under the very adept direction of Terri Kent, makes for a perfect summer evening entertainment. Besides wonderful singing voices, this is one dance-talented cast. They hoof and tap with enthusiasm, they have fun, and so does the audience.

Sandra Emerick captivates as Reno Sweeney, the Vegas-style evangelist. She sings, acts and dances with enthusiastic excellence. Eric van Baars makes a perfect foil as the up-tight Lord Evelyn. Justin Gentry, he of good singing voice and stage presence, gives the role of Billy a nice vulnerable quality. Rohn Thomas is good as Moonface Martin, but he could have been more comically dynamic (think Bert Lahr).

Though not listed as one the show’s lead role, Maryann Black grabs and holds the audience as the air-headed Erma. Black is amazing. She dances circles around the “kids” on stage who are probably one-third her age. Her high kicks and tap-dancing wizardry stopped the show on at least two occasions.

Nancy Andersen Wolfgang’s musical direction, Robert Wolin’s set design, Sarah Russell’s costumes, Cynthia Stillings’ lighting design and Jason Potts sound design, all work well.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Porthouse’s ‘ANYTHING GOES’ is a total delight. Sail away to an evening of fun by floating down to Porthouse. It’s worth the outlay of gas money to get to this production. BRAVO!!!!!!