Anything Goes, Book by Guy Bolton, P.G. Wodehouse, Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse; Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter. Directed and Choreographed by Kelly L. Shook.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
Karla Shook in a different show
"The world has gone mad today..."
The greatest talents need no help. In 1934 songwriter Cole Porter undertook a monumental task, writing a show for a great talent who only needed one good song to make her place in Broadway history. She had already made a hit out of the Gershwin brothers tune "I Got Rhythm," and now she had four fabulous songs in the Cole Porter show "Anything Goes" to attain the heights of first-class stardom: "I Get a Kick Out of You," "Blow, Gabriel, Blow," "Anything Goes" and "Youíre the Top." Ethel Merman was a star and nothing could stop her from taking control of the street called Broadway.
With a score that kills, the show ran for a whopping 420 performances and was filmed with Merman repeating her role two years later.
Flash forward twenty years on to an off-Broadway revival of the show and the ugly genius of producers who didnít think those four hits were enough to maintain audience interest, so a hodge-podge of other Porter hits tunes were added, the ending of the show was changed to reflect the hokey film ending and some very good material was ejected as though it was a pilot tossed from a burning airplane."Take Me Back to Manhattan (1930), "Letís Misbehave" (1927), "Letís Step Out" (1930), "Friendship" (1939), "Itís DeLovely (1936), and "Heaven Hop" (1928) were added. These are terrific songs, but they donít belong in this show, especially when the remarkable "Buddie Beware" and "The Gypsy In Me" are cut and replaced by them.
But this is the licenced version of "Anything Goes" now, so this is what we have. On stage at the Mac-Haydn Theatre in Chatham, New York, a young cast of musical comedy hopefuls is playing out the new version to the very best of their abilities.
In the Merman role of the Evangelist turned nightclub singer Reno Sweeney - loosely based on Aimee Semple McPherson - Karla Shook is giving it her all in the reddest dress ever created and the reddest wig ever seen and she is delivering a fine, sharp-edged and well-honed performance. Shook has verve. Sheís a better dancer than Merman ever was and she understands the cutting smack of her lines. Her seduction of Kevin Gardnerís Sir Evelyn Oakley is hilarious. His Oakley isnít up to her standards, however, but he gives us some able comic moments.
As her direct opposite is Sarah Pigion as Hope Harcourt, the girl loved by young Billy Crocker, played by Andy Geary. Both of these players have a lot to learn and perhaps working with Shook will give them some insight into character acting.. These are not stock characters, but actually interesting folks who suffer the consequences of inaction and reaction. Neither actor has that technique down yet, but they are attractive and talented and hopefully they will one day. Her rendition of "All Through the Night" was the best thing she did and his comic turn in a wheel chair was one of his.
The comic lead, Moonface Martin, was undertaken by Kevin Kelley in an excellent manner. Not as free with his physical comedy as he seems to want to be, he stands a good chance of being this summerís outstanding newcomer in this company. A delectable tap-dancing turn was delivered by Ryan Vandenboom as the shipís purser who also choreographed his own steps.
Hilarious in a role that has no reason to be was Carol Charniga as Hopeís hopeful mater, a designing mother-in-law to be with a Title within her grasp.
Kelly Shook has delivered the show to the round stage in Chatham with 48 tapping feet in a ten minute first act finale and two more feet still to come in Act Two. She keeps the show moving and her actors in a constant state of flux that allows every occupant of every seat in this theater in the round to see and hear something. The show is a busy one with barely a breath taken between action points. For a show that lasts nearly three hours that is a good thing. Her dances are a bit repetitious but always fun. Her romantic scenes seemed a bit distant.
I was privileged to see the first public performance of this show and must say that the music sounded better than I anticipated in this synthesizer/piano/drums reduction with the addition of a trumpet for the "Gabriel" number. Jimm Hallidayís costumes were as colorful and bright as they come and mostly right for the period and Kevin Gleasonís sets were snappy and workable as was Andrew Gmoserís lighting which occasionally left Karla Shook in the dark.
Iím sure Cole Porterís genius and talent outshine anything else served up on his ship to Europe show. No shipwrecks here (the original book had one) but clear sailing for a crew of 25 players in a pretty darn good voyage across the musical ages.
Anything Goes plays at the Mac-Haydn Theatre on Route 203 north of Chatham, NY through June 20. For tickets and information call 518-392-9292 or check them out on the web at www.machaydntheatre.org.