The academic year is winding down at area universities, but before the summer break begins, Catholic University of America presented their production of the famed Cole Porter musical comedy, “Anything Goes.” This is a mad-cap plotted musical which takes place aboard a ship. Billy Crocker, a romantic young man hopelessly in love, sets sail on a New York-to-London transatlantic journey in order pursue love interest, Hope Harcourt. He boards the ship without a ticket or passport with the help of friend and stage star, Reno Sweeney, and eventually, the congenial gangster Moonface Martin. The plot thickens or, rather, becomes more chaotic.
…successfully brought to life this work from nearly ninety years ago for a mostly young, college audience which cheered ecstatically throughout the performance.
Yet, it is the music more than the plot for which “Anything Goes” is famous, for it introduced immortal songs to the Great American Songbook, notably “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “You’re the Top,” and the titular “Anything Goes.” In recent decades, additional well-known Cole Porter songs have been included which were not part of the original 1934 show, such as “It’s De-Lovely.” (This highly memorable production, well-directed directed by Jay Brock, follows the 2022 revision of the script.)
The cast of students from Catholic University’s Rome School of Music, Drama, and Art proved uniformly excellent in its singing, acting, and dance performances. The CUA musical drama coterie successfully brought to life this work from nearly ninety years ago for a mostly young, college audience which cheered ecstatically throughout the performance.
Reno Sweeny was played by Emma Mangiacotti, who sang “You’re the Top” with miming gestures, comically dramatizing the words of the song. Ethan Turbyfill as Billy matched her note for note in gesticulations which also accentuated the witty lyrics. Hope’s solo “Goodbye, Little Dream, Goodbye” was sung melodically by Brooke Daigle. Erma was played with spunk by Carolyn Tachoir, who gave a sense of a 1930s gangster’s moll with a convincing New York City accent of the period. Her best song routine was “Buddy Beware,” which she performed with aplomb. Moonface was likewise played humorously by Jimmy Bartlebaugh, who channeled a gangster film character straight out of the 1930s crime films.
Lord Evelyn was played by Patrick Payne who made excellent use of the stage space and brought out the flamboyance of the eccentric character whom Hope, to the distress of Billy, seems destined to marry. His key song was “The Gypsy in Me,” for which Mr. Payne credits Kimberly Schafer’s choreography as his inspiration. “She was collaborative and daring at every point in the process, so it made performing it such a joy,” he told Maryland Theatre Guide.
The fabulous dancing, notably the tap-dancing sequences, deserves strong praise, especially in the two show-stoppers “Anything Goes” and “Blow, Gabriel, Blow.” There were moments of quiet triumphs as well, such as the “barbershop quartet” comprise of four sailors (Gabriel Blank, Olivia Buckley, Ben Campion, and Nathan Nichipor) in the chanty “There’ll Always be a Lady Fair.”
The vintage-style costume design of Ashlynne Ludwig—like the acting and 1930s-style orchestral accompaniment led wonderfully by Elisa Rosman—evoked the romance of an earlier era. The minimalist set design of JD Madsen allowed for quick, practical changes of scenery and encouraged the audience to imagine the ship, sea, moonlit skies, and Art Deco streamlining, although it was not quite in period vogue in the same manner or degree as the costumes and orchestral accompaniment.
Running time: Two hours and 45 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.
“Anything Goes” ran through April 23, 2023 at The Catholic University of America Benjamin T. Rome School of Music, Drama, and Art performing at Hartke Theatre, 3801 Harewood Road NE, Washington, DC 20017. No masks were required. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The Sound of Music” is on the horizon for the university’s musical performance in November 2023.