note: entire contents copyright 2016 by Sheila Barth
Theatergoers at last Saturday’s matinee got a happy-go-lucky kick of Ogunquit Playhouse’s rollicking production of “Anything Goes”. In fact, some said they thought it was deliciously de-lovely, perhaps the top revival of Cole Porter’s marvelous musical.
Although the play originally opened on Broadway in November 1934, on the heels of the Depression and disastrous stock market collapse, Americans embraced its upbeat tempo and displayed their resilient hope for the future, by emotionally escaping in farcical, silly, slapstick musical comedies that made them belly laugh and dance in the aisles, despite the era’s tough times.
The original book, written by Guy Bolton and PG Wodehouse, and Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, was an upbeat, peppy antidote then, and is as therapeutic today in our uncertain, violent time. Ogunquit’s production features the new book by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman, and what a wild, slap-happy show it is!
Under the deft direction of multi-award winning Jayme McDaniel, the huge cast are in sync, singing and dancing (kudos,choreographer Jason Wise) to Music Director Charlie Reuter & Co.’s sensational accompaniment. Whether they’re performing Cole Porter immortal solos and duets, such as “I Get a Kick out of You,” “You’re the Top,” “Easy to Love,”or ensemble tunes, “Blow, Gabriel Blow,” led by McArdle; or theme song, “Anything Goes,” every number’s a crowd-pleaser. Also, Derek McLane’s tri-level cruise ship, the USS American, easily accommodates the ensemble’s vibrant tap and acrobatic numbers.
There’s true grit here, too. Broadway sensation Andrea McArdle, slated to portray fictitious, street-smart, nightclub star Reno Sweeney, broke her wrist a few weeks before her appearance in Ogunquit. With Broadway show-must-go-on valor, the injured star wore a soft brace on her hand and wrist, and performed like the trouper she is- with grace, strength and stamina. She tap-danced, sang, and acted, without missing a beat.
Garnering a huge round of applause during her entrance is Ogunquit-America’s favorite comedian, Sally Struthers. You’ll remember her more vividly as Gloria, Archie and Edith Bunker’s blonde, large-eyed daughter, in longtime TV comedy series “All in the Family”. Struthers, beloved frequent performer at the famous Maine playhouse, is older, more buxom now, but she still possesses the pizzazz and perfect comedic timing to keep theatergoers laughing out loud. Portraying Evangeline Harcourt, a widowed socialite who has lost most of her fortune, Evangeline is marrying off her only daughter Hope (Patti-Lee Meringo) to wealthy, stuffy Brit, Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (hilarious Ian Knauer). All hell breaks loose when Hope’s poor suitor, Billy Crocker (Josh Canfield) forgets to complete a business transaction for his besotted boss, Elisha Whitney (terrific Steve Brady), and Billy ends up as a stowaway on the same cruise liner as Whitney and his beloved Hope.
Wacky antics and topsy-turvy, slapstick action overtake the cruise ship, when Billy is mistaken for a Public Enemy #1 criminal, with the Feds in hot pursuit; Billy in hotter pursuit of his beloved Hope; Evelyn unwinding and letting loose the gypsy in him as he falls hopelessly in love with flamboyant Reno; Evangeline and Elisha rekindling an old flame, especially since Elisha is still worth millions- maybe billions. Meanwhile, petty crook Moonface Martin, Public Enemy #13 (Ray DeMattis) and Erma, (Mychal Phillips). Moon’s lean, swinging femme fatale, ally themselves with Billy, by taking the heat off themselves, helping Billy carry out his ruse and win his lady love.
Struthers’ perky Cairn terrier, little Bradford T. Kenney (named after Ogunquit Playhouse’s founder), briefly portrays lovable little Cheeky, Evangeline’s pampered pet, who gets lost aboard ship and creates even more chaos in this madcap musical of mistaken identity and found love.