'Anything Goes' review: Cole Porter's iconic musical pops at The Croswell
Courtesy of The Croswell Opera House
One of the most successful, highly lauded musicals in the last century is making port at The Croswell Opera House. That would be Cole Porter’s 1936 powerhouse “Anything Goes,” a fizzy and sparkling tour-de-force known for signature tunes: “It’s De-Lovely,” “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” and, of course, “Anything Goes.” The show has undergone several revisions over the years, making minor tweaks and changes to better reflect the times. The Croswell opted to produce the new book by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman (the former, son to original book creator Russel Crouse) and it never disappoints, corralling an all-hands-on deck approach where the nearly 40+ company bring down the house for an unforgettable, toe-tapping evening of quality musical theater.
And while the story may have shifted over time (“It’s De-Lovely” was originally in Porter's own “Red, Hot and Blue” before getting integrated into “Anything Goes”) the journey of mistaken identities, romance, and celebrity sightings aboard the S.S. American in “Anything Goes” remains a delight. If the opening night crowd is any indication (people were literally jumping out of their chairs during the Act 1 finale), The Croswell has another major hit on their hands.
Which isn’t surprising considering the talent assembled: this iteration is directed by Mark DiPietro who’s eye for business, staging and organic world-building always gives audiences something to savor. Likewise for Sarah Nowak’s choreography which left the stage buzzing following an entourage of top-notch dancers smoking several numbers. Raymond Nowak conducts an ace pit who reside on stage amid the chaos and Mandy Kruse provides the vocal direction.
Pam Krage had the unenviable task of sorting and designing the costumes and it lives up to the splashy mantra audiences expect from the Cole Porter staple; Doug Miller’s scenic design wears many hats and is filled with separate, hidden compartments that can maneuver around the primary setting seamlessly; Chris Goosman’s sound design and Tiff Cruthfield’s lightning never wavered either. And aside from a few transitional miscues between scenery, the technical components of “Anything Goes” were in lock-step.
The crux of the narrative hasn’t changed (even if some characterizations have): the gist is there’s an ocean liner heading to London from New York and abroad is an eclectic set of personalities brought together by abnormal circumstances. There’s a rowdy nightclub singer, one low-life gangster, a hopeless debutante and her pompis English fiancé, plus an older, wealthy bureaucrat with his eyes set on a lost partner. Naturally, they’re caught in a love-triangle where hilarious disguises, horrendous vision, and swashbuckling escapades ensue.
But the hook of “Anything Goes” and perhaps the main attraction, belongs to Amber Woollcott’s incredible performance as Reno Sweeney, of which the show is built around and who’s presence and instinctual bravado light up the stage. A role akin to Reno Sweeney (one that’s most recently given actress Sutton Foster a Tony) requires plenty of vocal and movement flexibility as the show steers full steam ahead, and Woolcott doesn’t stumble or so much as blink in the wrong direction.
She’s wonderful, as are the other principal characters rounded out by seasoned Croswell performers. Joseph Ball crackles playing Evelyn Oakleigh, an arrogant English aristocrat who pulls out the hijinks in his memorable dance number: “The Gypsy in Me;” Steven Kiss, who Croswell audiences will remember from “A Christmas Story” and “Elf,” slides into his suave and charismatic wheelhouse playing Billy Crocker, a hopeless romantic chasing an old flame. That old flame being Hope Harcourt, played effortlessly by Sydney Bramlett (her rendition of the Act II ballad “Goodbye, Little Dream, Goodbye” sooths).
Elsewhere, Mary Rumman and William E. McCloskey are a riot playing opposite each other as Evangeline Harcourt and Elisha Whitney (McCloskey’s constant, hilarious delivery of “Crocker!” will forever live rent free in my head), Steve Antalek turns in a steady and hysterical Moonface Martin (aka “Public Enemy #13”) alongside Anjewel Lenor’s sly Erma LaTour.
DiPietro runs a tight ship juggling all the set-ups, and sometimes unnecessary plot complications the book conjures and he digs into the bigger ensemble pieces, making sure the picture isn’t overwhelming or that it could capsize at any moment. (The intimate scenes also hold their ground). That he’s supported by such a wonderful artistic and creative team only elevates the production. Sure, the jokes and cheesy one liners might induce a couple eye-rolls, but the beauty of “Anything Goes” is you know a rousing musical number is just around the corner. What you don’t know is how astounding the execution will be and The Croswell’s current rendition hardly falters or loses momentum. Put another way, it’s a smashing success that ends the summer season on a major high note.
The Croswell’s production of ANYTHING GOES runs through August 21st. Tickets can be purchased here.