Anything Goes in Cole Porter's delightful musical romp through the 1930's at Music Theater Works

Anything Goes in Cole Porter's delightful musical romp through the 1930's at Music Theater Works
Erica Evans (Reno Sweeney and ensemble. Photo: Brett Beiner

Nearly 100 years ago a book penned by P.G. Woodhouse and Guy Bolton was transformed into what became the runaway Broadway hit, Anything Goes–heralding a “new” age, where as the song says, Anything Goes.

The original Broadway production opened in 1934 at the Alvin Theatre (now Neil Simon Theatre) with music and lyrics by Cole Porter and starring Ethyl Merman belting out Porter’s songs as only she could. Through the years many revivals were mounted and two films followed.

The most recent, Music Theater Works’ (MTW) captivating revival–a delightful 175-minute romp through the madcap 1930’s–filled with quirky characters, slapstick comedy and song and dance numbers is sure to put a smile on your face.

Light on plot but big in spirit, the action takes place aboard the ocean liner S. S. American bound from New York to London. Nightclub singer/evangelist Reno Sweeney (Erica Evans) is onboard along with her buddy Billy Crocker (Ken Singleton) who has stowed away to be near his love interest Hope Harcourt (Lexis Danca)–who loves Billy but is engaged to the wealthy Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Maxwell J DeTogne) because of pressure from her mom who hopes his money will buy them lifestyle they had before the Depression.

Photo: Brett Beiner

Photo: Brett Beiner

The story seems light years from today and, of course, it is. But that’s exactly what makes it the perfect escape.

The jokes are corny, the characters are stereotypes, there’s mistaken identities and transparent plot devices. The large cast includes a bevy of cliches from stereotypical showgirls, a lovable drunk, Elisha Whitney (Rick Rapp) who relives his Yale years and his beloved “Bull Dogs” ad nauseam; the bumbling gangster, Moonface Martin (Brian Zane), aka Public Enemy #13; Evangeline Harcourt (Liz Norton), a widow who dramatizes everything including her missing lapdog–whose fur turns up as a beard used to disguise Billy Crocker who is trying to avoid being seen by his boss. Rounding out the hilarous assortment of characters are Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Maxwell J DeTogne), a caricatured English aristocrat, the star-crossed lovers–Hope Harcourt and Billy Crocker–and a host of girl-crazy sailors.

Filling Merman’s shoes in a big way in the lead role of Reno Sweeney is Erica Evans. Evans brings the whole production together with her booming voice, expressive mannerisms and non-stop energy.

Worth the price of admission: Evans show-stopping, high-energy song and dance extravaganza of the title song, Anything Goes--with the entire ensemble at the end of act one. The audience went crazy, unable to contain themselves, erupting in applause in the middle of the routine that brought the entire house down. 

A total of 17 Porter classics including De-LovelyI Get a Kick Out of YouYou’re the TopFriendship and Blow Gabriel Blow are performed in their entirety with the back-up of a 16-piece live orchestra directed by the always outstanding Roger L. Bingaman.

Photo: Brett Beiner

Photo: Brett Beiner.

Rudy Hogenmiller directs the production with choreography by Clayton Cross. The strong design/production team includesKristen Martino (scenic), Alexa Weinzierl (costumes), Andrew H. Meyers (lighting), Aaron Quick (sound), Sean McStravick (stage manager), Christina L. Reszel (hair and make-up), Jamie Karas (props master) and Katie Beeks (production manager).

This production serves up a top notch revival of this classic blast from the past–providing a happy ending–and 3 weddings. You might even find yourself saying that “it was De-Lovely.”

Rating: 3 1/2 stars

When: Wednesday, August 22, at 2 pm; Thursday, August 23, at 2 pm; Friday, August 24, at 8 pm’ Saturday, August 25, at 8 pm; Sunday, August 26, at 2 pm

Where: Cahn Auditorium, 600 Emerson Street, Evanston, IL

Tickets: Tickets start at $34. Ages 25 and younger half-price (recommended for 8 and older). (847) 920-5360

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