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A CurtainUp DC Review

In olden days a glimpse of stocking,
Was looked on as something shocking,
But now, God knows,
Anything goes.

Anything Goes
Corbin Bleu as Billy Crocker (Photo credit: Maria Baranova)
What is it about Anything Goes, the musical that first hit the boards in 1934, while repercussions of the 1929 stock market crash were still ongoing? Is it the dopey story about stowaways, mismatched couples, money and celebrity seekers on board the ocean liner SS American travelling from New York to London? Not likely. Is it the original book by Britwits P. G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton and American musical veterans Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse? Maybe. Or the 1980's updated dialogue by John Weidman and Russell Crouse's son Timothy's 1980's? Possibly.

With little or no doubt, what makes Anything Goes one of the most loved and cherished musicals is Cole Porter's music and lyrics. In addition to the title song, there's "I Get a Kick Out of You," "You're the Top," "Easy to Love," "Blow, Gabriel, Blow," and "All Through the Night," winner after winner. No matter if you've heard them 1,000 times, the melodies and the lyrics never fail to please.

So it is no surprise that Arena Stage, which revisits one great musical from the Great American Songbook each season, chose to bring it to life. However, it turns out to be a very uneven production.

The good: Corbin Bleu's graceful and charming performance as Billy Crocker is ace. He's equally adept at acting (His "deese and dose" New Yawk gangster accent for the part within his part) as he is at singing. He is so light-on-his feet dancing ballroom, jazz, ballet or tap, that he reminds audiences of the late, great Gene Kelly. It therefore came as no surprise that Bleu's Playbill bio notes that he recently played the Gene Kelly role in Singin' in the Rain. Arena, please take note.

Stephen Derosa, as Moonface Martin, channels both Groucho Marx and an old vaudevillian style. He's very funny, especially when he breaks through the fourth wall, talks to the audience and, as the rumor spreads that the ship is sinking and everyone should head for the lifeboats, throws away the line "women and character actors first." His solo, "Be Like the Bluebird," (pronounced Blueboid) is a high point of the evening. Maria Rizzo's take on the tough broad Erma is equally amusing especially in her second act solo, "Buddie, Beware."

Parker Esse's choreography is, as always, a delight to watch. He meets the challenge of working with a four-sided stage, with multiple entrances and exits on several levels with some thrilling ensemble moves. The sentimental pas de deux danced by Billy Crocker and his fiancee, Hope Harcourt (Lisa Helmi Johanson, in a beautiful peach blossom pink silk gown designed by Alejo Vietti) is endearing. Most of Vietti's other costumes appear to be trying too hard to evoke Art Deco-like style. As accessories go, it would be hard to beat Maximilian Moonshine, of the Papillion breed, whose performance as the little dog Cheeky is flawless. Music Director/Conductor, Paul Sportelli, who can be seen, baton in hand, from the neck up, keeps his below-stage 9-piece orchestra on the beat.

Where Arena's production falters is in the casting of Soara-Joye Ross as Reno Sweeney. Her very obvious vibrato is distracting as are the times she is off pitch. She is not alone in having a voice not suited to this production. There were too many wobbles and squeaks. Over-acting can be endemic to theater in the round (or, as is the case at Arena's Fichandler Theatre, square) as actors try to reach all sides all the time. One wishes that Director Molly Smith had made the choice to reign in the worst offenders.

Putting aside those quibbles, while this production lacks the kick of champagne it can still glide, happily, on Corbin Bleu's stellar singing/dancing/acting and, as always, Cole Porter's de-lovely music and lyrics.

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Anything Goes
Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter
Original book by P. G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton, Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse
New book by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman
Directed by Molly Smith
Choreographed by Parker Esse
Music Direction by Paul Sportelli
Set Design by Ken Macdonald
Costume Design by Alejo Vietti

Cast: Jimmy Ray Bennett (Lord Evelyn Oakleigh); Corbin Bleu (Billy Crocker); Julio Catano-Yee (John/Ensemble); Stephen DeRosa (Moonface Martin); Ben Gunderson (Purser/Ensemble/Lady Fair Quartet); Jonathan Holmes (Captain/Ensemble); Lisa Helmi Johanson (Hope Harcourt); Brent McBeth (Ensemble/Lady Fair Quartet/Photographer); Mickey Orange (Ensemble/Lady Fair Quartet/Reporter); Lizz Picini (Ensemble/Virtue/Dance Captain); Kristyn Pope (Ensemble/Chastity); Maria Rizzo (Erma/Ensemble); Soara-Joye Roass (Reno Sweeney); Christopher Shin (Luke/Ensemble); Thomas Adrian Simpson (Elisha Whitney); Evangeline Harcourt (Lisa Tejero); Demoya Watson Brown (Ensemble/Purity); Andrea Weinzierl (Ensemble/Charity); Nicholas Yenson (Ensemble/Lady Fair Quartet/Minister); Maximillian Moonshine alternating with Olly (Cheeky); Allie O'Donnell (Swing); Brett Uram (Swing).

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes with one 20-minute intermission.
Arena Stage,; November 2 through December 23, 2018. Reviewed by Susan Davidson, November 14, 2018 performance.

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