Porthouse’s ‘Anything Goes’ is déjà vu all over again
By Bob Abelman
Any production of “Anything Goes” is bound to inspire a sense of déjà vu among audiences.
After all, the show has been thrice revived on Broadway since its 1934 premiere, has been on a national tour that came through Playhouse Square in 2012, and – as a thoroughly wonderful piece of escapist entertainment – is the go-to musical for local amateur and professional theaters whenever desperate times call for diversionary measures.
“Anything Goes” offers silly scenarios easily resolved, witty conversation shared by enchanting and simply drawn characters, a stage full of willful nonsense performed by a large ensemble, and absolutely delightful music.
The show’s music and lyrics by Cole Porter are memorable in their own right, but are made even more so considering that many – like “It’s De-lovely” and “Easy to Love” – have been used in other popular musicals that pre-date or follow “Anything Goes,” and are so good that they have been covered by numerous recording artists the likes of Barbra Streisand, Frank Sinatra and Lady Gaga.
The current production of the show at Porthouse Theatre is particularly familiar because it was also performed in 2008. Terri Kent is once again directing, MaryAnn Black is once again providing the choreography, Rob Wolin’s gorgeous multi-tier set with an oft-used revolving door has come out of cold storage, and a few of the original costumes have worked their way into Sarah Russell’s wardrobe closet.
If your memory needs stirring, this romantic comedy takes place on the deck of a cruise ship sailing from New York to England. Billy Crocker is a stowaway, hoping to break up an engagement and win the heart of Hope Harcourt, who is sailing with her foppish English fiancé, Lord Evelyn Oakleigh. Billy is aided and abetted by a second-rate gangster named Moonface Martin who is posing as a minister, his sailor-chasing, -catching and -releasing moll Erma, and his old friend and nightclub singer Reno Sweeney.
If several players seem familiar it is because Sandra Emerick and Eric van Baars are repeating their featured roles from 10 years ago, and the years have been very kind.
Emerick’s Reno is just as brash and brassy as Sutton Foster’s portrayal, which won a Tony for Best Actress in the 2011 Broadway revival, and Emerick’s voice is as strong as when she last performed Reno on the Porthouse stage. Everything she does is impeccably timed, always interesting and in keeping with the embroidered presentation that goes with playing a character grounded in the world of 1930s musicals.
van Baars as Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, who is more in love with American slang than his American fiancé, is once again hilarious. “The Gypsy in Me” number he performs with Emerick – where his now-fuller physique wonderfully belies the immense song-and-dance skills he long ago mastered and which resurface here – is such a delight that it qualifies as the best number of the evening.
Although the production numbers are performed with punch and precision by a very talented ensemble composed largely of Kent State University musical theater majors, much of the tap choreography seems repetitive and only complex enough to appease an audience but never wowing it.
Still, it is so easy to get lost in the young performers’ passion and pleasure, as well as the superb musical accompaniment that supports it under Jennifer Korecki’s direction, that you find yourself grinning like an idiot throughout most of their performances.
The other featured performers are also delightful, including the charming and vocally gifted Matthew Gittins and Liz Woodard as Billy Crocker and Hope Harcourt, respectively. The adorable Kelli-Ann Paterwic, who plays Erma and is given a chance to shine in “Buddie, Beware,” should have a musical all to herself.
Rohn Thomas as a nearsighted and lusty Wall Street tycoon (and Crocker’s boss) and Christopher Seiler as Moonface, Public Enemy #13, are a pleasure to watch as well.
Yes, Porthouse’s “Anything Goes” is déjà vu all over again. But it is a musical theater experience worth repeating. cv
WHERE: Porthouse Theatre, 3143 O’Neil Road, Cuyahoga Falls
WHEN: Through June 30
TICKETS & INFO: $22 – $40, call 330-672-3884 or visit porthousetheatre.com
Bob Abelman covers professional theater and cultural arts for the Cleveland Jewish News. Follow Bob at Facebook.com/BobAbelman3. 2017 AP Ohio Media Editors best columnist.
Originally published in the Cleveland Jewish News on June 17, 2018.
Lead image: The ensemble performing “Blow, Gabriel, Blow.” Photo / Clint Datchuk