Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's review of Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill
Olney is using the 1962 revision of the 1934 script by Guy Bolton, P.G. Wodehouse, Howard Lindsay, and Russel Crouse, which interpolates several additional Porter songs into the frothy story of tangled love affairs on board an Art Deco ocean liner traveling between New York and England. The cornerstones of Porter's original score are "You're the Top," "I Get a Kick Out of You," and the title song, but this adaptation also includes "It's De-Lovely," "Friendship," and "Let's Misbehave."
Director Brad Watkins does a good job keeping track of the characters in midst of all the silliness. Stockbroker Billy Crocker (Kevin Bernard) has been searching New York for the young woman with whom he spent an unforgettable evening. When he sees socialite Hope Harcourt (Laura Schutter) again, she's preparing to board the S.S. American with an older, rather stuffy Englishman, Sir Evelyn Oakleigh (Karl Kippola), her fiancé. Billy who doesn't have a ticket to sail takes matters into his own hands with the help of his friend Reno Sweeney (Karlah Hamilton), a former evangelist who now runs a nightclub; Moonface Martin (Ray Ficca), a bumbling fugitive crook disguised as a minister; and Moonface's traveling companion, brassy Bonnie (Erin Driscoll).
As with most musicals of the period, the plot is simply a clothesline on which to hang the songs and musical numbers, staged by Ilona Kessell with the necessary élan. The zaniest may be "Heaven Hop," with its chorus line of masseurs in white and women in towels, but she's equally skilled at blending the Charleston with tap in the first-act finale, and bringing out a full-stage revivalist frenzy for "Blow, Gabriel, Blow."
At first, Hamilton seems a bit sedate for Reno, a character created by Ethel Merman, but her performance loosens up as the action gets wilder. Bernard is no cookie-cutter leading man; he benefits from a knockabout quality that allows him to slip in and out of various outrageous disguises, and his voice matches well with Schutter's sweet soprano. Kippola finds the impishness hiding underneath Sir Evelyn's reserved exterior; Ficca milks his role for every bit of slapstick he can find; and Driscoll is a small woman with a surprisingly powerful voice.
James Wolk's scenic design takes its inspiration from the travel posters of Adolphe Mouron Cassandre, blending the clean lines of Art Deco with vivid primary colors. The costumes by Howard Vincent Kurtz add to the general sense of luxury, and Larry Munsey must be cited for his wigs, especially the matching platinum blonde wigs for Reno's "Angels" and Bonnie's copper-colored flip.
Musical director Christopher Youstra oversees a high-spirited orchestra, and keeps the mood from ever dragging.
Olney Theatre Center