Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
Most theater seasons, the University of Cincinnati College - Conservatory of Music (CCM) presents a traditional classic as one of their two musicals in their Mainstage Series, and this year is no exception with a rousing and zany production of Cole Porter's Anything Goes.
Anything Goes premiered in 1934, and has been successfully revived several times since in New York. The show follows numerous high-spirited characters on board a luxury liner sailing from New York to London. Billy Crocker stows away to follow a past love, Hope, who is set to marry an Englishman upon arriving in London. Billy enlists the help of his old friend Reno Sweeney, a former evangelist turned night club singer, as well as Moonface, a gangster posing as a priest, to help him win back the girl.
CCM uses the revised book for the 1962 version of the show (rather than the original or the 1987 revision) for their production. This version is by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, who adapted the original story by Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse. By today's standards, the plot is corny and very lightweight, with broad comedy, lots of one-liners (most of them admittedly quite funny), cases of mistaken identity (a staple of the day), and a predictable ending. What the book does provide, however, is a structure for a plethora of wonderful Cole Porter songs and some lively dance numbers. The score boasts many of Porter's most recognizable songs, all sporting the delightful melodies and witty wordplay for which he's known. Musical gems include "It's De-Lovely," "Friendship," "I Get A Kick Out of You," "Blow, Gabriel, Blow," "You're The Top" and the title number.
Front and center in CCM's production are five graduating seniors, and all turn in praiseworthy performances. Beau Landry, Jr., is a solid singer, a smooth dancer, and is an endearing male lead as Billy. As Reno, Lexie Dorsett has a commanding presence and displays strong vocal pipes throughout. Lauren Sprague gives depth to the thinly written role of Hope, thanks to a nuanced portrayal, and sings and dances skillfully. Matt Densky (Moonface) demonstrates deft comic abilities and is deservedly an audience favorite. As Sir Evelyn, Christopher Timson shows off great timing and solid overall talent. These five are part of an outgoing senior class at CCM that is one of the strongest in recent years. Juniors Julie Kavanagh (a fine comedienne who expertly leads several dance numbers as Bonnie), James Gregory Tate (fun as the always annoyed Elijah Whitney) and Carlyn Connolly (a big-voiced Mrs. Harcourt) do well in supporting roles. The ensemble maintains a high energy level and turn in fine portrayals from top to bottom.
Director Ashton Byrum provides fluid staging and wisely ensures that the comedic moments work well. However, he's unable to overcome the piece's fundamentally slow pacing and directs or allows Sir Evelyn to be presented as far too prissy and buffoonish to ever think that a worldly woman like Reno could fall for him. The choreography by Patti James is visually pleasing, bright, and energetic, and is certainly an asset to the staging. Roger Grodsky briskly leads a talented seven-piece orchestra.
Set Designer Brian Ruggaber supplies a handsome two-level set with a turntable that clearly conveys the ship setting without taking up the stage space needed for the many dances. The lighting by Mark C. Williams is sufficient throughout and the costumes by Dominique Rhea Glaros are attractive and period appropriate.
Anything Goes is mindless fun, and it showcases a brilliant score by Cole Porter. CCM continues to produce students ready for professional careers in theater, which is evident in both their graduating seniors and their younger cast mates in this well performed and effectively staged production. CCM's production continues through March 7, 2010.-- Scott Cain