With happy pizzazz and panache, it was a carefree kind of evening at Hale Centre Theatre last night as they opened Cole Porter’s famous musical “Anything Goes” in Gilbert.
When the houselights dimmed, a cute Gilligan’s Island type of introduction was projected through silent black-and-white video footage of the lead characters framed in a giant porthole on the walls at the intimate little theatre in the round. As the stage lights came up on first-class passengers costumed in elegant creams and whites, the opening visuals suggested an evening of enjoyment and wows lay ahead.
The light-as-salty sea air story focuses on four central characters. Celebrity night club singer Reno (Emily Giauque Evans), broke corporate assistant Billy (James D. Gish), debutante Hope (Jacqueline Brecker) and wealthy Lord Oakleigh (Ben Mason) begin the evening matched to one partner but end with another over the course of a voyage on a luxury liner from New York to London through a series of high-jinks and high energy song and dance.
Last night’s king of high-jinks was Moonface Martin, hilariously played by Geoffrey Goorin. His deadpan line delivery was reminiscent of Buddy Hackett and a consistent wellspring of humor. Goorin was cartoonish and simplistic throughout a heaping pile of silly dialogue that he liberally embellished. Adding clever Morse Code beeps to his lyrics or an irresistible Elmer Fudd laugh characterizes the bottomless barrel of giggles he evoked.
Equally magnetizing in a polar opposite way, Evans played Reno Sweeney as a bright-eyed and somehow wholesome seductress. With a sort of Sports Illustrated toned and healthy sex appeal, she used her ample dance skills and vocal training to make the audience swoon. She provided an attractive depth as well. Most notably, she turned her sultry steam to sincere sadness as she beautifully sang the opening to “I Get a Kick Out of You.”
In an about face from his dark portrayal of Judd on Hale’s stage last season in “Oklahoma,” Ben Mason kept the crowd in stitches. His very proper English character interpreted American slang literally and then improperly used it in fantastically funny embarrassing ways.
As so often occurs in a Cambrian James directed and choreographed production, the joyful, crisp innovation in staging and dance steps was infectious. One glowing example was a full ensemble tap break when the music dropped out completely. With perfectly percussive, synchronicity–as visual as it was audible–the tapping WAS the music. In addition, the couples’ dancing included several stunning lifts that drew admiring gasps and murmurs, particularly Evans’ ballet-like leap into her partner’s arms in a wispy, flame red costume.
For Porter aficionados, know that Hale chose the 1962 Off Broadway revival of “Anything Goes” rather than calling to mind Broadway’s Patti Lupone in 1987 or Sutton Foster in 2011 as leading lady Reno Sweeney, which provided Evans greater ownership of the role. Every revival has borrowed Porter songs from other shows of his, but the 1962 version has a couple notable traits all its own.
Bonnie, the comic criminal sidekick to Moonface in the show, has a much bigger presence in this version. That means Hale’s lively Harley Barton had two robust, rarely-heard solos. As a fiery redhead, Barton brashly led the ensemble in both song and tap dance during “Heaven Hop” and “Let’s Step Out.” It also meant Act II opened with “Public Enemy Number One” as an unusual acapella, formal choral number. Lucky for Hale, it allowed Musical Director Elizabeth Spencer’s well-coached and vocally talented company to shine.
Further, the 1962 version provided Hope and Billy the happy opportunity to sing the classiest “Let’s Misbehave” ever, thanks to Gish and Brecker. It was a wonderful bonus to the couple’s earlier “DeLovely” Fred-and-Ginger-like rendition in Act I, with Brecker in flowing powder blue and white feather trim, and both in especially fine voice. James had added a striking dance break of four couples in tux tales and similar blue to mirror the love struck couple as they sang and danced. On the other hand, we all missed out on a Porter favorite, “You’d Be So Easy to Love,” by virtue of this specific revival.
“I haven’t stopped smiling since the minute I sat down,” said one Hale Theatre patron to a stranger in the seat beside her well into the second half of the evening ‘s performance. Her facial expression beamed similarly to most everyone’s. Splashed with mirth and levity, it was a night without lows in “Anything Goes.”