The better news is that these problems don't really matter. Once you get past the somewhat thin-sounding overture and adjust yourself to the audible distance between yourself and the performers, you're in for a fun time.
Heading the production are Belle Calaway as nightclub singer Reno Sweeney and Kevin Earley as her pal Billy Crocker. In their first scene together, Reno complains that Billy has never made a pass at her, but Calaway plays it for fun - it's clear that this Reno has absolutely no romantic interest in this Billy, she's just joshin' around with her good friend. Having established their playful relationship from the start, Calaway and Earley are adorable as they flirt their way through "You're the Top."
Calaway's voice is not delicate or elegant; she's an old-school belter and the power is there when she needs it. Character-wise, Reno's friendship and general amiability come through no matter who she is singing with, and Calaway also has a surprising vulnerability which is apparent as soon as she crosses paths with her real love interest in the piece.
While Reno has more songs, Billy is at the center of the show plot-wise - it is his attempt to stowaway on a cruise liner in order to catch the love of his life (who is inconveniently engaged to someone else) that most of the show's convoluted subplots surround. Earley doesn't take the proceedings too seriously, pretty much sailing through the whole thing on charm. He takes over vocally on his one solo, "Easy to Love," with his baritone sounding so strong you wonder whether someone unnecessarily turned up his mic.
Between their singing and their style, Calaway and Earley own this production - and with a knockout Reno and Billy, there's not much more that you need. Director/choreographer Dan Mojica provides it, though, with a twelve-member tap ensemble filling the stage with sound and energy.
There is a weak spot or two in the company. Melissa Fahn plays Billy's love interest, debutante Hope Harcourt. It's a thankless role, and Fahn isn't really helped by Heather Carleton's unflattering costumes, which seem uncomfortably tight in Fahn's bodices. Fahn's voice sounds lush and beautiful when she sings a one-line reprise of "Easy to Love," but the liquid silk quality is sadly missing in her second-act solo, "Goodbye, Little Dream, Goodbye." Hope's mother, Evangeline Harcourt, is played perhaps too dottily by Allyce Beasley. Beasley talks a little too slowly and over-exaggerates her gestures as though she's not quite sure how big to perform in this space.
But there's a lot more quality in here, too. Hope's fiance, Lord Evelyn, is played by Gordon Goodman, who does an excellent job showing how Evelyn's quirkiness makes him a horrible match for society girl Hope, without making him seem wholly unlikeable to people less concerned with propriety. John Massey, Jr. is firmly in control of the "comic mobster" persona (having played Nicely-Nicely for Musical Theatre West's Guys and Dolls) and he gets laughs easily as Moonface Martin. Lesli Margherita is Erma, the "gangster's moll," and she also solidly plays the type.
Add it all up and you've got a delightful show.
Anything Goes runs at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center in Long Beach thru July 23, 2006. For information, see www.musical.org.
Musical Theatre West - Paul Garman, Executive Director/Producer presents - Anything Goes/ Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter. Original Book by P.G. Wodehouse & Guy Bolton And Howard Lindsay & Russel Crouse. New Book by Timothy Crouse & John Weidman. Lighting Design John E.D. Bass; Sound Design Julie Ferrin; Costume Coordinator Heather Carlton; Hair & Wig Design Anthony Gagliardi; Technical Director Kevin Clowes; Press Representative Demand PR, David Elzer; Stage Manager Lisa Palmire; Assistant Stage Manager Mary Ritenhour; Musical Director Diane King Vann; Director/Choreographer Dan Mojica.
Photo: Ed Krieger