EVERYTHING GOES TO Music Theater Works
In a charming take on Cole Porter’s 1930s musical, Music Theater Works’ ANYTHING GOES features upbeat big band music, crowd-pleasing dance numbers and a healthy dose of nostalgia. Directed by Rudy Hogenmiller and choreographed by Clayton Cross, a strong ensemble cast brings an eclectic assortment of characters to life – nightclub singers, undercover mobsters, hapless young lovers, drunken businessman, bumbling aristocrat, and more. Gathered in the confines of a transatlantic liner, mischief and misunderstandings abound in PG Wodehouse* fashion, until a series of wacky tricks bring about the inevitable happy ending, complete with a wedding (or three) .
Erica Evans is a memorable star as Reno Sweeney, the smart nightclub singer who plays an active role in most of the crazy subplots. Along with his rich voice and versatile dancing skills, Evans shares an entertaining chemistry with his three leading men: old friend Billy Crocker (Ken Singleton), his partner in crime Moonface Martin (Brian Zane), and his unexpected love interest. Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Maxwell J DeTogne). Whether delivering an upbeat duet with one of these men or tap dancing center stage during the full title number, Evans brings a charismatic presence befitting the show business character to every scene. that she embodies.
Another notable performance is Maxwell J DeTogne as Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, a caricature of an English aristocrat whose startling secrets tend to emerge at opportune times – one such confession leading to his hilarious solo, “The Gypsy in Me”. Rick Rapp also gives a comedic spin as Elisha Whitney, an elderly businessman who loves his Yale bulldogs and booze. Liz Norton plays Whitney’s former flame, Evangeline Harcourt, a widow whose devotion to her little dog is matched only by her ambition for her debutante daughter to marry off. Brian Zane and Kayla Boye add to the mayhem as outlaw Moonface Martin, otherwise known as Public Enemy #13, and Erma, a sassy New Yorker who wins every sailor’s heart.
Musically, Ken Singleton and Lexis Danca deliver enjoyable solos and duets as star-crossed lovers Hope Harcourt and Billy Crocker. Other strong vocal performances include the sailor quartet (Jar’Davion Brown, Matt Huston, Tyler Klingbiel and Bryan J. Wlas), whose tight harmonies leave something to be desired for them to have more featured numbers. Roger L. Bingaman conducts the live big band orchestra, which includes several strong soloists who bring plenty of energy to Cole Porter’s score, despite some minor balance issues. The high visibility of the orchestra pit in Cahn Auditorium lends itself to playful interactions between musicians and actors; for example, allowing Reno to gesture to lead trumpet during “Blow, Gabriel, Blow”.
ANYTHING GOES has clearly stood the test of time, despite several plot elements that are difficult to translate for modern audiences. Music Theater Works’ production of this classic is traditional, in a good way; you don’t have to be a big band fan to be entertained with the light music, dancing and comedy on offer.
* Fans of British comedian PG Wodehouse will recognize the character types and storylines of the author who brought us Bertie Wooster and Jeeves. Wodehouse wrote the original ANYTHING GOES book with Guy Bolton, with revisions by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse. Timothy Crouse and John Weidman wrote a new version of the book, first performed in 1987, and used in this production.
ANYTHING GOES by Music Theater Works is playing through August 26 at Cahn Auditorium, 600 Emerson Street, Evanston, IL 60201. Tickets are available at www.musictheaterworks.com or 847-920-5360.
PHOTO CREDIT: Brett Beiner