Cole Porter's "Anything Goes" Westchester Broadway Theatre

Published: Friday, July 20, 2018 By: James V. Ruocco Source: From The Desk Of Jim R
Cole Porter songs.
Tap-dancing sailors and chorus girls.
Vintage champagne.
A London-bound cruise ship.
Raucous frivolity.
Giggly, giddy subplots and dialogue.
Boatloads of wicked, sexual innuendo.
Golden age wit and nostalgia.
Lovesick couples.
Nightclub singers, English fops, and gun-toting mobsters.
Dancing, dancing and more dancing.
And, oh yes, a very happy ending.

Perfection, you ask?
Yes, indeed!

The world of Cole Porter and the one that is the centerpiece for the big, bright and bouncy "Anything Goes," currently on view at Westchester Broadway Theatre, transforms this production into the musical event of the summer. It sings. It dances. It delights. It sparkles. It excites. It explodes. It also comes brightly gift wrapped with big, splashy dance numbers, a variety of colorful characters and a musical songbook of show tunes, in which every single number is gorgeously sung, acted and performed.

There is so much generated charm, passion, inspiration and talent in this glossy, deliciously wicked revival, a one-time visit to Elmsford simply won't do. Buying a ticket or two to another showing of this high-calibrated production is absolutely mandatory. I speak the truth. Trust me, you will want to see this "Anything Goes" again and again. If you are in the market for an effortlessly stylish musical, it doesn't get any better than this.

That said, let's get down to basics.
The plot line for this high seas romance (set abroad a luxury ocean liner bound for England), goes something like this. As characters of every shape, size and social class come and go, there's glorious romance, confused identities, beguiling kookiness. celebrity gangsters, topical gayness, organizational mishaps, breezy setups, champagne corkers and oozing nostalgia. There's also plenty of ripe, playful, acerbic commentary about social position and class, icebergs and sinking ships, English society vs. American society, casual sex and tangy innuendo, Chinese stereotypes, homosexuality, drugs, and alcohol, arranged marriages, religion, brash business deals and swooning flirtations under the moonlight and way down below deck. Anything can happen and does.

"Anything Goes" is the 206th production to be staged at the Westchester Broadway Theatre. Therefore, it's only fitting that Richard Stafford should return as the director to stage this immensely popular musical. At WBT, his previous directorial credits include "Saturday Night Fever," "Fiddler on the Roof," "Show Boat," "Annie Get Your Gun," "Mary Poppins" and Guys and Dolls." A keen, deft, intuitive director, he brings a vast knowledge and understanding of musical theater to this production, which is utilized most effectively here. He's also an original who is always looking for new ways to shape and reinterpret the traditional Broadway musical.

Here, his staging techniques are thrilling, inspired, confident and enthusiastic. Everything he creates and shapes justifiably reflects the mechanics of the original "Anything Goes" book and the complete, reworked edition by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman. The jokes, the plotlines, the vaudevillian shtick, the double takes, the characters, the musicality and the sheer corniness of it all spring merrily to life under his watchful tutelage.

With the help of the entire Westchester Broadway Theatre design team, including Steve Loftus (set design), Andrew Gmoser (lighting design), Keith Nielsen (costume design), Mark Zuckerman (sound design) and Gerard Kelly (wig/hair design), Stafford keeps "Anything Goes" firmly rooted in the period from whence it came. Every actor's move, every gesture, every position, every nuance, every mood, every line delivery and every song introduction cries the 1930s.

Elsewhere, he knows how to fully utilize the colorful and mammoth set design (the ever-changing colors of the ships' smokestacks are an absolute plus for this production), to full advantage, thus, moving the actors about on every playing level, from top to bottom, front and center, and in and out of the audience without any form of hesitation or calculation. He also knows the story, the period, the music, the nostalgia and the humor inside out and often gives his actors crafty, wonderfully timed bits of stagecraft and blocking which they toss off effortlessly. This, in turn, keeps "Anything Goes" in marvelous, high-spirited form. Things are so spontaneous, natural and light-hearted, nothing that happens in this musical is ever questioned, out of place or out of sync for a single second.

Cole Porter wrote some of the greatest entries in the Great American Broadway Musical Songbook and "Anything Goes" contains more than a dozen of his most treasured, glorious, show-stopping song hits including "I Get a Kick Out of You," "Friendship," "Anything Goes," "Blow, Gabriel, Blow," "All Through the Night," "You're the Top," "It's Delovely," "Easy to Love" and "Buddy, Beware."
So, what's not to like?

At Westchester Broadway Theatre, musical director Patrick Hoagland treats the Cole Porter score with reverence, dazzle, sentimentality, and spirit. He knows he has something wonderful in front of him as does his spirited band of musicians John Bowen (keyboards), James Mack (percussion), David Dunaway (bass), Brian Uhl (trumpet), Steven Bleifuss (trombone) and Nicholas DeVito (reed).

Given the quintessential 1930's style of "Anything Goes" and a plotline that cries let's sing another show tune, everything that happens musically is tied into the actual structure of the piece quite seamlessly. No one sings just to sing. No one dances just to dance. This is not that kind of musical. Nor is there any obvious padding or excessive baggage thrown in without purpose. It's all beautifully, timed, packaged, sealed and delivered.

As "Anything Goes" segues from scene to scene, act to act or song to song, Hoagland, ever mindful of the great musical score before him, emphasizes the extreme playfulness and social jest of Porter's music and lyrics, its educated sprinkles and purple moods, its urbane flavoring and its risqué implications and mechanics. This, of course, is shaken and stirred with deliciously icy helpings of mischief, melancholy, pathos, tangy usurps and sincerity.

Careful attention is also paid to Porter's lyrical brashness, its truths, pronouncements and magnificent wordplay, it is compulsive, deft phrasing, its overt promiscuity, its chic insouciance, its distinct melodies and lastly, its sophisticated, swinging beats and rhythms. With Hoagland calling all the shots, the "Anything Goes" orchestra is always in full swing and never once misses a beat or important song cue. They have fun. We have fun. And the entire cast (leads, supporting players, ensemble) deliver every one of the familiar songs in perfect pitch and harmony as Mr. Porter intended.

Given that fact that "Anything Goes" has been designed solely as pure escapism, dancing, of course, is everything in a musical of this caliber. And Stafford, who doubles as choreographer, blows the roof off the Westchester Broadway Theatre with sensational.....and, I mean, sensational.....choreography that establishes that sweet and pungent sense of bubbly euphoria that a 1930's musical can inspire. The good news is that this is not your everyday production of "Anything Goes." This is "Anything Goes: The Extended Version" and it's like nothing you've ever seen before, which is meant as the highest compliment to Stafford and his cast of dancing professionals.

Since "Anything Goes" is presented in three-quarter staging, a conceit that thrusts everything that happens on the WBT stage out before us in 3-D brilliance, Stafford is able to expand, reinvent and design more intricate, more daring and more fluid dance choreography that explodes, snaps, crackles and pops in every color of the rainbow. He takes chances. He surprises. He cajoles. He delights. He leaves you awestruck with giddy delight. And he never once, repeats himself.

Bringing the dances of the story to life, he makes the right, appropriate choices in terms of style, mood, movement and dance tableaux.  From high-voltage tap numbers that include "Anything Goes" and "Blow, Gabriel, Blow" to the buoyant, simply-stated "You're the Top," "Easy to Love" and "It's De-Lovely," Stafford brings a slick, distinct 1930s feel to the proceedings, matched by plenty of electricity, attitude, sizzle, froth, and glamour.

But that's not all. When necessary, the dances reflective in certain musical numbers are extended to not only showcase the talents of certain principals and ensemble members but to provide additional shading, purpose, and dimension. This process also allows Stafford to add some dazzling, show-stopping "42nd Street" choreography to his production, offset by some enlightening, energetic dance moves, combinations, and pairings that heighten the brilliance of this already ingenious production. Stafford also adds dancing to every single one of the scene changes, which, is not only effective but keeps the flavorful buoyancy of "Anything Goes" in full swing.

In the role of the sassy and brassy nightclub chanteuse Reno Sweeney, a role once played by Elaine Paige, Sutton Foster, Mitzi Gaynor and Patti LuPone, among others, the very talented Stacia Fernandez steps into the part looking very much like a younger Glenn Close or her cousin from Greenwich, CT.  It's a dream-role come true and one the actress reenacts with spunk, pizazz, heat, passion and drive. She plays it as written with undeniable spirit and gusto and when it comes time to take center stage to sing and dance, this Reno Sweeney is her own creation.

Vocally, she is full-voiced and able ("Anything Goes," "Blow, Gabriel, Blow," "I Get a Kick Out of You"), with just the right amount of trumpeted blare, snap and musicality. As a dancer, she taps, glides and swoons with flip, wild and sexy abandon. And when it comes time to toss off the musical's cheery or acerbic one-liners, she does it ever so engagingly, with a dash or two of perfectly-barbed glee.

Playing the part of Moonface Martin, i.e., Public Enemy No. 13, who, for story purposes is disguised as a parson, Jon J. Peterson gives one of those showstopping, scene-stealing performances that you're not likely to forget in the years that lie ahead. He's such fun to watch, one anxiously awaits his every entrance. It's a role that is tailor-made for the actor and one that is every inch as good (if not, better) than Bill McCutcheon who created the same part in the big, splashy 1987 Lincoln Center revival opposite Patti LuPone and Howard McGillan.
Nothing is too difficult or too complicated for Peterson. His high-pitched, screechy voice, his infectious mugs and double takes, his vaudevillian/burlesque line delivery, his body language and the way he moves in and about the Westchester Broadway Theatre stage, is a source of merriment for all involved. His big comic solo "Be Like the Bluebird" in Act II, sets the stage for lots of belly laughs. And he's the perfect sidekick for Reno Sweeney in Act I, when it's time to deliver the flavorsome ditty "Friendship" alongside Ms. Fernandez.

If there is anyone more right or more capable for the part of the clean-cut, lovesick, misunderstood, Billy Crocker, it's none other Zach Trimmer. He's handsome. He's charming, He's dashing. He's personable. He's Yale University and Brooks Brothers from head to toe. And he completely understands how to transform a matinee idol character from page to performance in ways that give the character a much-needed persona and dimension that other actors who've played the part before him were sorely lacking.
Vocally, he is absolutely outstanding in every one of Crocker's vocals including "All Through the Night," "It's Delovely," "Easy to Love" and "You're the Top," the latter performed alongside Ms. Fernandez. As a dancer, he reminds one of a young Lee Roy Reams in "42nd Street," a conceit choreographer/director Richard Stafford embellishes to full effect throughout "Anything Goes."

As Hope Harcourt, the gorgeous, social debutante that Crocker pines for throughout Act I and Act II of "Anything Goes," Jackie Raye is polished, charming, beguiling and desirable, which is exactly what the part calls for. The good news, however, is that despite the musical's 1930's frivolity, her characterization of the part is anything but one-note. Instead, the actress offers a witty, intuitive, three-dimensional portrait. This Hope speaks her own mind, stands on her own two feet and refuses to be taken for granted. Raye also has the vocal chops well-suited for Cole Porter ("Goodbye, Little Dream, Goodbye," "It's Delovely") and several Broadway musicals including "Les Miserables," "Evita" and "Hello, Dolly!"

Kevin Pariseau, in the part of malaprop-prone Englishman Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, delivers a deft, often hilarious comic portrayal of a twitchy British fop with a secret past just waiting to be unleashed. His English accent is splendid as is his decidedly English wit, manner, and dash. He has great fun with the role and cuts loose when it's time to deliver the wildly outrageous "The Gypsy in Me" in Act II. As Erma, the brassy, flirty young woman who can't wait to take the pants off agreeable, lovesick sailors, Mychal Phillips makes all the right moves. Her ditsy, high-pitched voice and persona is right out of a 1930's screwball comedy. Her comic interplay with everyone on stage including Mr. Peterson, keeps laughs coming in every direction. And finally, her "Buddy, Beware" is just what you'd expect. It's a showstopper every step of the way.

The Westchester Broadway Theatre production of "Anything Goes" is a great addition to the 2018 summer theatrical roster of Broadway musical entertainment. It is sumptuous, glamorous, luscious, inspired fun brimming with admirable clarity, dazzle, chutzpah and savior faire. The plot is cheeky, campy, adorable and silly. It is played entirely straight by the WBT cast and gets appropriate snickers in all the right places. The dialogue is the absolute embodiment of a bygone era that no longer exists. The characters are playful, giddy, bold and brazen for the shipboard romance, mix-ups, and calamity that surround them.

The Cole Porter songs are savvy, wicked and marvelously inspired. The cast, all in fine voice, nail every single one of the musical numbers with absolute vocal power and sublimity. Richard Stafford's impassioned direction and choreography unfold in glorious 3-D Technicolor. Patrick Hoagland's splendid musical direction is proof positive that everyone onstage and off loves a Cole Porter show tune.
And, oh yes, there's the food.
Great service. Great wait staff. Great dinner menu selections. Great desserts. Great cocktails. Great appetizers. And everything is handled by the managers, owners, and chefs in a relaxed, casual matter indicative of ocean voyages, both past, and present. Something wonderful, indeed.