Monday, May 16, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of the Village Light Opera Group's production of Anything Goes at The Riverside Theatre by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of the Village Light Opera Group's production of Anything Goes at The Riverside Theatre was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Anything Goes
Music & Lyrics by Cole Porter
New Book by Timothy Crouse & John Weidman
Directed & Choreographed by Courtney Laine Self
Musical Direction by James Higgins
Set Design by David Jones
Technical Direction by John Leyden
Lighting Design by Stephen Cyr
Costume Design by Emily Abma
The Riverside Theatre
Theatre of The Riverside Church
94 Claremont Avenue
New York, New York 10027
Reviewed 5/15/16

The original idea for this musical set on board an ocean liner came from producer Vinton Freedley, who selected the writing team of P.G. Wodehouse & Guy Bolton. The first draft of the show was called Crazy Week, which became Hard To Get, and finally, Anything Goes. The original plot involved a bomb threat, a shipwreck, and hijinks on a desert island, but, just a few weeks before the show was set to open, a fire on board the passenger ship SS Morro Castle caused the deaths of 138 passengers and crew members. Freedley felt that proceeding with a show on a similar subject would be in questionable taste so he insisted changes be made to the script. Wodehouse & Bolton were in England and no longer available so Freedley turned to his director, Howard Lindsay, to write a new book. Lindsay recruited press agent Russel Crouse as his collaborator, beginning a lifelong writing partnership. Anything Goes had a tryout in Boston before opening on Broadway at the Alvin Theatre (now known as the Neil Simon Theatre) on November 21, 1934. It ran for 420 performances, becoming the fourth longest-running musical of the 1930s.

Anything Goes was revived Off-Broadway at the Orpheum Theatre on May 15, 1962. The script was revised to incorporate several of the changes which appeared in the 1936 and 1956 film versions of the play. This revision was also the first stage version of Anything Goes to incorporate several songs from other Cole Porter musicals. For the 1987 Broadway revival at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center, the book was updated by John Weidman & Timothy Crouse (Russel's son). This revival opened on October 19, 1987 and ran for 784 performances. It won Tony Awards for Best Revival of a Musical, Best Featured Actor (Bill McCutcheon as Moonface), and Best Choreography. It is this version of Anything Goes that has been presented here at The Riverside Theatre by the Village Light Opera Group. A revival of the 1987 Broadway rewrite opened on April 7, 2011 at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre, produced by the Roundabout Theatre Company. This production ran for 521 regular performances and 32 previews closing on July 8, 2012. It won three Tony Awards for Best Revival of a Musical, Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical (Sutton Foster as Reno Sweeney), and Best Choreography. 

The story concerns ridiculous, madcap antics aboard the SS American, an ocean liner heading from New York to London. Billy Crocker, a young Wall Street broker, catches a glimpse of Hope Harcourt, an American debutante, and falls madly in love with her. He abandons his duties and responsibilities to his boss Elisha Whitney (Go Bulldogs!) and becomes a stowaway in the hope of winning the love of this woman, who he later learns is an heiress from Oyster Bay, Long Island, accompanied by her mother Evangeline Harcourt, and engaged to be married to Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, an Englishman. Billy has no interest in his friend Reno Sweeney, who loves him and is a performer on board ship. Moonface Martin (Public Enemy #13) is also on board disguised as a minister, along with his friend Erma. They help Billy escape detection by giving him the passport of Snake Eyes Johnson (Public Enemy #1), who missed boarding the ship under the fictitious name Murry Hill Flowers. Billy also disguises himself as a sailor, an old woman, and a man covered in hair cut off Mrs. Harcourt's Pomeranian and made into a beard. It turns out the Harcourt/Oakleigh marriage is more of a business relationship than one based on romantic love. The Captain of the SS American finds out Snakes Eyes Johnson is on board and runs a dinner in his honor with everyone believing that Billy, a young broker, is really Public Enemy #1. Eventually, Reno, an evangelist turned nightclub singer, decides to stage a Christian Revival asking audience members to repent and confess their sins. Billy admits his love for Hope and reveals his true identity which results in his being arrested and thrown in the brig with Moonface Martin. Lord Evelyn Oakleigh admits he once had "an unpremeditated romp in the rice with a Chinese woman named Plum Blossom," which eventually leads to the cancellation of his engagement. In the end, Hope falls for Billy, Evelyn falls for Reno, and Elisha convinces Evangeline to accept his hand in marriage. Billy's negligence in not selling a particular stock ends up making his boss an extremely rich man, and everyone apparently lives happily ever after.

The star of this production was Oliver Pierce, who did a smashing job of portraying Lord Evelyn Oakleigh. His hilarious rendition of "The Gypsy In Me" was spot on. Oliver Pierce is a charismatic actor with extraordinary talent who is definitely Broadway bound. Hope Salvan did a fine job as Reno Sweeney bringing to the part an Ethel Merman inspired performance. She was quite powerful throughout but especially when singing "I Get A Kick Out Of You," Blow, Gabriel, Blow!," and when performing the duet "Friendship" with Sean Cullen Carroll, who was consistently entertaining as Moonface Martin. Megan Doyle shined as Erma, Moonface's friend, especially when she sang "Buddie Beware" in which she warned all the sailors who were in love with her that they might get more than they bargained for if they ended up marrying her. While Lynne Brooke was perfectly cast as Evangeline Harcourt, the same cannot be said for Becca Garcia, a short woman with a small voice who, for some inexplicable reason, was cast as the Ship's Captain. All of Reno's Angels were beautiful and talented and Joe Bliss was a standout as the Ship's Purser, who was also part of the Sailor Quartet. Adrian Rifat as Billy Crocker, and Stephanie Haring as Hope Harcourt had their big moment when performing "All Through The Night," which was quite exceptionally done. There was tremendous talent is this quality ensemble cast. 

This production of Anything Goes was a definite crowd-pleaser. The audience members gave the cast enthusiastic applause and the buzz during intermission and after the show was that it was an unmitigated success. I will certainly check out future shows presented by the Village Light Opera Group, a non-profit community theatre company founded in 1935. For more information, check out their website at 

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