Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
The musical, of the 1930s, is familiar. A nightclub singer, Reno Sweeney (Rashidra Scott), was once an evangelist but has, shall we say, switched careers. Billy Crocker (David Harris) is a hustler who is connected to a Wall Street type, Elisha J. Whitney (Kingsley Leggs). Also aboard the ocean liner where virtually all of the action occurs is Hope Harcourt (Hannah Florence), engaged to brit Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Benjamin Howes). Her mother, Mrs. Evangeline Harcourt (Denise Lute), is another one traveling from New York City to England. Moonface Martin (Stephen DeRosa), Public Enemy Number 13 but that number could drop, is evading the FBI; hence, he is disguised as a member of the clergy. He and Emma (Desiree Davar) have mutual, um, interest.
Crocker is suspicious of Moon. Hope, at one point, tries to prod Sir Evelyn toward a romantic modeand so on. The plot takes a number of turns but, in the end, is subservient to dance, music, and feel of the show. The very famous play includes Cole Porter's music and lyrics, and the original book was written by Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse, then revised by Howard Lindsay, and Russel Crouse. John Weidman and Timothy Crouse wrote a new book for a 1987 revival. It all begins with the classic number, "I Get a Kick Out of You." Rashidra Scott's rendition is more than adequate but it is not a perfect fit for this actress (who is otherwise quite versatile, distinctive, highly skilledan excellent casting choice). In fact, the first act is professionally proficient (it does include a terrific "It's De-Lovely") until that memorably zealous "Anything Goes." Talk about hurtling into an audience's psyche: no further explanation necessary.
The second portion of the production is highlighted early as Rashidra Scott's Reno and the company present "Blow, Gabriel, Blow." Barclay's movement is, once again, formative and encourages Reno's sultry maneuvers. Later, Benjamin Howes, as Evelyn, brings us a catchy, deft "The Gypsy in Me."
Stage design by Wilson Chin finds a band atop a deck of the ship while the performers are a level below. Ilona Somogyi's costuming is period suitable and much more: this designer includes pliable, glitzy outfits which allow the actors to both make nimble, fluent movements and snare theatergoers' attention. The show's look grabs attention. Daniel Goldstein, directing, tries to push things along. That said, portions of the lengthy first act do not compel. It is the musical itself, rather than the facilitation, which seems tired. With recognizable tunes such as "You're the Top" in addition to those previously mentioned, one might think that this would be an opportunity to look forward to classic Cole Porter. At the Godspeed Opera House, however, after that absolutely vibrating "Anything Goes" first act concluder, everyone anticipates (and subsequently receives) expansive dance.
Rashidra Scott, recently on Broadway in "Beautiful: The Carole King Musical," is marvelously talented. Much comic relief is provided by Stephen DeRosa's Moonface Martin. DeRosa has a number of Broadway credits and many more throughout New England. Having seen him elsewhere on stage, an honest confession is that my recall is, specifically, of his Eddie Cantor on HBO's "Boardwalk Empire." Hannah Florence (Hope) has a sweet voice and Benjamin Howes, as Evelyn, shows nifty acting technique.
Cheer, if it is possible, for Kelli Barclay whose expertise in dance and movement is often in evidence for Godspeed Musicals. Her inventions for "Anything Goes" as the number closes out the first act on the cozy stage, are astonishing.
Anything Goes continues at Godspeed Musicals in East Haddam, Connecticut, through June 16th, 2016. For tickets, call (860) 873-8668 or visit goodspeed.org.