Weigh anchor with one love-sick Wall-street whiz-kid, a pretty but prim socialite, her determined mother, two less than enthusiastic religious converts, a dim-witted gangster who’s on the lam with his boss’s number-one “dame”, and a brassy female evangelist-turned-nightclub singer; throw in a load of unforgettable songs and some fancy-steppin’ and you have Cole Porter’s quintessential musical theater classic “Anything Goes”! Now “One More Productions”, the resident company at the landmark “Gem Theatre” in Garden Grove California, has given this modern madcap masterpiece of maritime misadventure the first-class treatment it so richly deserves.
The one-liners come fast and furious here courtesy of the new book by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman (based on the original by P.G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton with revisions by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse) and it’s no exaggeration to state that Porter was at the top of his game when he devised the score guaranteeing audiences would (in the words of one of his more famous verses) “feel after every line, a thrill divine down your spine”! And why not? When the luxury liner “S.S. American” heads out to sea, the iconic title number exalts “the world has gone mad today and good’s bad today, and black’s white today and day’s night today….” as plenty of hijinks on the high seas are also piped aboard as two unlikely couples set sail in search of romance. Along the way they’re aided by a crew of singing sailors, an exotic plot-twist (or several) and some of ‘The Great White Way’s’ most memorable standards, including “I Get A Kick Out Of You”, “Friendship”, and of course, the rousing “Anything Goes”.
Directed by “One More Productions” Co-Founder, Damien Lorton, on opening night he advised those in attendance that “Anything Goes” was a show they had been wanting to do for some time; happily, their thoroughly captivating re-mounting of this old favorite has proven to be more than worth the wait! Lorton’s direction is swift and sharp making the most of the most manic moments this exquisite farce boasts. What he and his troupe manage to achieve in effect, is a brisk and bubbly “Tex Avery” cartoon brought to life, incorporating many delectable ‘screw-ball’ moments into the proceedings. Likewise, Roberta Kay’s vivacious, unfailingly suave choreography encompasses a plethora of dancing styles from ballet and ballroom to sultry Latin rhythms and good ol’ tap for those really “big” chorus numbers. Individually, Billy and Reno’s debonair dance-break during “You’re The Top” demonstrates some gilt-edged strutting worthy of “Fred and Adele Astaire” themselves; however, the production really gels when the entire ensemble is on stage.
“There’s No Cure Like Travel (Bon Voyage)” earns the first big (and well-merited) applause of the evening, while “De-lovely” starts off surprisingly simple then swiftly builds into a swell dance interlude presenting several couples in an elegant tango that culminates in a genuinely sweet moment between Hope and Billy. Similarly, the triumphant title sequence features a nifty ‘challenge dance’ between Reno’s “Angels” and the sailors that steadily progresses until soon everyone on deck is involved. Directly after intermission they all gather once more for the reverent “Public Enemy Number One” before seguing into the roof-raising “Blow, Gabriel, Blow”—complete with some high-kicking hoopla (again courtesy of Reno and her girls.)
Leading the cast is Adriana Sanchez who is instantly likable as Manhattan’s “Sensuous Sermonizer’, “Reno Sweeney”. Her take is a compelling blend of wise-cracking silver-screen legends like “Ann Miller” and “Betty Hutton” with the girlish exuberance of “Darla Hood” (of “The Little Rascals” fame) which is especially fitting because everyone on this wacky cruise is basically a big kid at heart. Her powerful voice and big personality are an awesome fit for these amazing songs, and hers is the performance that really guides the show as she’s the character most all the others are connected to. In fact, Reno kicks off most of the best-known songs, and in doing so never disappoints. Her melodic pairing with Chris Harper as “Sir Evelyn Oakleigh”—a charmingly befuddled British Knight with a fascination (if not exactly a faculty) for American slang, ranks as a bona-fide comedic show-stopper! Titled “The Gypsy In Me”, during their intermezzo, she’s overheard to breeze “This is so fun!”–and she’s absolutely right! The entire show is! Yet it’s Sanchez’s masterful handling of both the titular Act One closer, followed by Reno’s boisterous second act “revival meeting” (where she’s clad in a flaming Red gown) that serve as the production’s dynamic musical ‘one-two’ punch!
Joining her is Alex Bodrero as the story’s hapless hero–Billy Crocker; while always appropriately dashing, Bodrero also brings an amiable “guy-next-door” quality that’s a mix of “Jimmy Stewart” and “Hank Williams” to this gutsy junior executive who stows away on the vessel in order to prevent the marriage of his lady-love. He especially shines with his solo “You’d Be So Easy To Love” in the first act, then later while delivering a sumptuous rendition of “Night And Day” (sung in the ship’s brig) which makes for a refreshing inclusion in the second. Megan Davis also does a commendable job as the debutante of Billy’s dreams, “Hope Harcourt”. Hers is a more sensitive, ‘human’ portrayal, hence a much more agreeable one. Instead of spending all her time pushing Billy away, it’s obvious Hope truly wants to be with him as well, making her soliloquy “Goodbye, Little Dream” all the more touching.
Ira Trachter too, is delightfully dithery as “Public Enemy #13”: “Moonface Martin”, while Producer Nicole Cassesso is marvelously mischievous as the top ‘gun-moll’ of them all, “Erma”. Striking just the right balance between “bump” and “grind”, Erma confesses that she’s been “cursed with sex-appeal”, lamenting “It’s been my downfall”, to which one young passenger proclaims “She ain’t confessing—she’s advertising!” Fine support is also furnished by Carmen Tunis as Hope’s Mother, “Mrs. Evangeline Harcourt”. In what could be an easily over-looked or marginalized role, given her hilariously histrionic approach, it stands out for all the best (read: most side-splitting) reasons! Not to be overlooked either are Ashley Elizabeth, Lexi Cross, Hannah Clair and Ashley Bauer Harkey who all do a first-rate job as Reno’s “Fallen Angels”: “Purity”, “Virtue”, “Angel” and “Chastity” respectively. In addition, Cris Cortez, Tad Fujioka, Brandon Taylor Jones and Zack Martinez as a quartet of sailors all handsomely harmonize “There’ll Always Be A Lady Fair”.
Often a director will tell a performer to “have fun with it and the audience will too”; never has this been truer than with this show at “The Gem”: it’s apparent that the cast is having a blast there before the footlights, so viewers in turn can’t help but enjoy themselves right along with them! After rolling out the gang-plank on Thursday, April 16th, “Anything Goes” runs through Sunday, May 3rd 2015; show-times are Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8:00 PM with Sunday matinees at 2:00 PM; “The Gem Theatre” is located at 12852 Main Street in Historic Downtown Garden Grove California. (Children and Senior discounts are available, and special “Student Rush” tickets are also obtainable for Thursday and Friday Performances.) For more information or to purchase tickets, call “One More Productions” at (714) 741-9550, ext. 221, or visit their website at www.onemoreproductions.com.
Production Stills By Lisa Scarsi, Courtesy Of Dan Pittman at “Pittman PR” (www.pittmanpr.com) And “One More Productions” (www.onemoreproductions.com) Special Thanks To Dan Pittman, Damien Lorton, Nicole Cassesso, And To The Cast & Crew Of “The Gem Theatre’s” “Anything Goes” For Making This Story Possible.