“Anything Goes” is a classic example of a screwball comedy—it features romance, madcap farce and situation comedy, social satire, and the jazz music of Cole Porter, in a way that both celebrates and subverts audience expectations in a very funny way. The action takes place entirely aboard a luxury liner, the U.S.S. American, which is traveling from New York to London during the early 1930s.
The plot is comically complicated and goes something as follows: a former female evangelist-turned-nightclub singer, Reno Sweeney, is traveling with her group (“The Angels”) to perform. She runs into an old friend, Billy, who is escorting his overbearing boss onto the ship. Billy discovers that his old flame, Hope, is boarding the ship with her mother and, worse, Hope’s wealthy (and rather clueless) British fiancé, Sir Evelyn Oakleigh. Billy thus stows away to try to win her back.
Also on board is a second-tier gangster, Moonface Martin (“Public Enemy Number 13”, though he would very much like to raise his ranking a few notches) and his moll, Bonnie; the gun-toting gangster is disguised as an Anglican priest to hide from the law. Billy enlists Reno and Moonface to help him hide on the ship and to somehow win Hope’s heart; in the process, Reno and Sir Evelyn are surprised to discover that they are attracted to each other and must figure out what to do about this unexpected situation.
… Silhouette Stages’ production of ‘Anything Goes’ offers a quality production of a classic show, with compelling performances, excellent voices, and fine staging.
Robyn Bloom is outstanding as Reno Sweeney. Bloom plays Reno with the perfect balance of jovial cynicism and personal warmth, mixing worldliness with occasional bouts of sincerity. She also has a singing presence that is both commanding and engaging; her song-and-dance numbers, especially “Anything Goes” and “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” reminds us of exactly why the show was a hit in 1934 and continues to be a standard even today. Ms. Bloom has excellent chemistry with Ryan Geiger (Sir Evelyn Oakleigh), especially in their comic duet, “Let’s Misbehave.” Mr. Geiger, for his part, wonderfully portrays Sir Evelyn, a man who initially appears unbearably stiff and stuffy but is gradually revealed to be quite endearing.
Todd Hochkeppel is very effective as would-be criminal Moonface Martin. His over-the-top performance and the rat-a-tat-tat delivery of his lines works beautifully for this antic character, and his solo, “Be Like the Bluebird,” is a comic delight. Jim Gross and Rebecca Hanauer, as the apparently star-crossed lovers Billy and Hope, are also effective in their roles; Mr. Gross conveys Billy’s affable resourcefulness well, while Ms. Hanauer conveys Hope’s conflicted feelings well in song.
The show is directed and produced by Connie Trump Ross. The set design, mostly the deck of a ship, is simple but excellent; the clean lines beautifully convey the late Art Deco/Streamline Moderne sensibility found on luxury liners of the early 1930s. Music direction is by William George and choreography by Tina De Simone. The show uses recorded music with live vocals; the overall sound quality is very good, with both speech and lyrics easily audible.
“Anything Goes” has a long and storied history in American theatre. The original 1934 Broadway version had a Cole Porter score, with the initial text written by P.D. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton, though Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse re-wrote the script a week before the show’s opening. In spite of the last-minute changes, the show was hit and helped launch the career of famed entertainer Ethel Merman. “You’re the Top” became one of the most popular songs in America, and for that reason, also one of the most parodied as well. “I Get a Kick Out of You” was also extremely popular, perhaps becoming even more popular in the 1950s than when the song had first appeared some twenty years prior.
The show was later revived several times to great success; these revivals include an off-Broadway run in 1962 and a second Broadway run in 1987. In each case, the script was revised and the list of Cole Porter songs modified, including the addition of “It’s De-lovely,” originally from the show “Red, Hot, and Blue.” Oddly, the program for the Silhouette Stages production states that they are performing the 1987 version, but it appears instead to be the 1962 version; as a result, this production includes the songs “Heaven Hop,” “Take Me Back to Manhattan,” and, most notably, “Let’s Misbehave.” Persons aware of the show primarily through film versions (released in 1936 and 1956) should be aware that the stage version contains a significant amount of innuendo and adult-oriented humor; this reviewer’s ten-year-old daughter stated that she very much liked the show, but was not sure if she would call it “family entertainment!”
Version quibbles aside, Silhouette Stages’ production of “Anything Goes” offers a quality production of a classic show, with compelling performances, excellent voices, and fine staging. Historically-minded audience members will also find interesting the respectful-yet-satirical portrayals of religious leaders (Reno Sweeney is said to be loosely modeled on the controversial and glamorous woman evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson). Similarly, the show’s lampooning of public fascination with celebrity/notoriety, as opposed to true moral worth, continue to resonate today as much as when the show first appeared.
Running time: About 2 ½ hours, including one 15-minute intermission.
Advisory: Some mature/sexual themes, treated in a comedic manner.
“Anything Goes” runs through March 24, 2019, at Silhouette Stages’ Slayton House Theatre, 10400 Cross Fox Lane, Columbia, Maryland 21044. For more information click here.