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Anything Goes
Landmark Musicals at Rodey Theater

Also see Rob's review of The Seafarer

Anything Goes
Erin Warden and Michael Matthew Finnegan
There are people who are good at writing melodies, and people who are good at writing lyrics. Not many are good at both. In my opinion, of composer/lyricists, the two best that America has produced are Cole Porter and Bob Dylan (pace Stephen Foster, Irving Berlin, Frank Loesser and Stephen Sondheim). I always find it a pleasure to hear Porter songs performed live, and that's why I had a good time at Landmark Musicals' presentation of Anything Goes.

In 1934, Porter produced this musical with three great songs ("You're the Top," "I Get a Kick Out of You" and "Anything Goes") and three really good songs ("All Through the Night," "Blow, Gabriel, Blow," and "You'd be so Easy to Love"—this last one having been dropped from the original show and then reinstated in revivals). There are several lesser-known songs, and a few added in from other Porter musicals, such as "It's De-Lovely," which contains the phrase "the tinpantithesis of melody"—if that's not wit, what is?

I heard somewhere that more musicals are ruined by their book than by their songs. Obviously, the songs in Anything Goes are terrific, but the book is another story. There are six writers credited, four for the original 1934 version and two more for the 1987 revival. Maybe too many cooks spoiled the soup. Probably the script is typical of a 1930s musical, but it just doesn't play as well today. The show takes place on an ocean liner crossing from New York to England. There are eight main characters (too many, I think), several minor ones, mistaken identities, improbable situations, ridiculous disguises, lame jokes, two Chinese characters who are simply embarrassing nowadays, and the expected happy ending with three weddings about to take place. It's all so hokey that it almost sank the show for me, but luckily there are the songs and the talent and enthusiasm of the players to keep the boat afloat.

The two biggest roles are Reno Sweeney (played by Erin Warden) and Billy (Michael Matthew Finnegan). Together they do a wonderful version of "You're the Top," and pull off all their solos with flair. I thought Matthew had a little trouble with "All Through the Night" toward the end of the show, but it's a difficult song to sing; otherwise, he was fine. Erin Warden walks on water, as far as I'm concerned, and she is terrific here, as usual. My only quibble is that she's so genteel (by nature, I suspect) that she lacks the brassiness one expects in this role (Ethel Merman originated it). "I Get a Kick Out of You" sounds almost like a ballad—which is a valid way to interpret the song, I guess, as a song of unrequited affection. Overall, though, she's great, and boy, can she wear an evening gown.

The other leads are all talented but because there are so many of them, they have too little to do. Kate Sarff as Hope, the debutante, has a beautiful singing voice but doesn't get to use it enough. Stephanie Lynn Burch as Erma, the gangster's moll, knocks the socks off her one song, "Buddy, Beware" (thrown in near the end almost as an afterthought—oops, we forgot to give her a number). Zane Barker as the English Lord Evelyn Oakleigh is hilarious throughout and I'm glad he gets to do a song and dance number before the end. Dean Eldon Squibb is funny with some unplaceable New York accent as Moonface Martin, the gangster. William Lang as the always-drunk rich guy and Ninette Mordaunt as the debutante's mother are delightful (but poor Ninette doesn't even get to sing).

The whole ensemble is energetic and they can all sing and dance well. The dancing is one of the reasons this show is so popular (a revival is on Broadway now), and our troupe here does us proud. Congratulations to Wendy Leverenz Barker, the choreographer, and to everyone for pulling off the two showstoppers, "Anything Goes" and "Blow, Gabriel, Blow". I wish the show had ended with a dance number; instead, the finale is a reprise of "I Get a Kick Out of You," but there's no kick in it, and I wanted something with a little more oomph in it to send me out dancing.

The production values are high. Set and lighting by Myers Godwin are very good, and the scene changes are mercifully swift. The costumer is not credited, but whoever it is deserves a praise. It's a big undertaking to coordinate a cast of twenty-four, not to mention the technical stuff, but Hal Simons, the director, makes it look easy.

Myra Cochnar, the producer, is committed to a live orchestra, and this one sounds great under the direction of William W. Williams and HB Williams. In less than five years, Myra has turned Landmark Musicals into the kind of group that any city, even those much larger than Albuquerque, would be proud of.

Anything Goes is being presented by Landmark Musicals at the Rodey Theater in the University of New Mexico Performing Arts Center on Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 and Sundays at 2:00 through April 1, 2012. Info at landmarkmusicals.org.


Photo: Max Woltman

--Dean Yannias



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