Review by Danny Gaisin
During the recent Olympics, there was a kerfuffle over judging. Seems a skater received less points than a competitor that actually fell on the ice. The refs explained that marking was done on the basis of undertaken difficulty; same thing happens with theatrical critiquing.
McMaster’s Musical Theatre decided to stage the Cole Porter durable creation ANYTHING GOES deserves an unsharpened pencil; because putting on a demanding big cast; big crew, Broadway musical is daunting enough without having to face a tough reviewer. The 1934 play is based on a Wodehouse & Bolton story with Porter writing both the music and the lyrics.
The music is memorable & melodic; the latter – clever and poetic, even if obviously dated. Like that ubiquitous battery bunny, ‘Anything Goes’ has gone on & on and ‘still keeps on going…’
The playwrights utilized a format vehicle popular in the thirties- that of a group of individuals within a finite environment, i.e. “Stagecoach”; ‘Grand Hotel’ etc. In this instance, the cast are all passengers on a posh transatlantic liner-the S.S. America.
Bit of trivia: – the term ‘posh’ is a nautical reference from the liner hayday…it means “Portside over; Starboard-home”. Use that at your next dinner party!
Porter gives the audience a smitten swain overstaying his brief business-visit aboard with his boss. Having seen his beloved about to cross the pond with her nobleman fiance, he decides to stowaway. Also making the trip; a trampy bar singer; a sleazy minister & his quartet of acolytes; plus a couple of wanted criminals. Misrepresentations and impersonations will obviously abound.
Director Daniel McGuire, due to the dearth of males in the casting pool, has cleverly decided to stage ‘Anything Goes; -gender blind. That is, females taking most of the roles, including the love stories, without delving into alternative social relationships. It may be somewhat confusing at the beginning, but once the construct is accepted, physical attributes no longer enter the equation. McGuire utilizes an almost bare stage with a few props, thus, it’s his thespians that are the focal points.
The young hero ‘Billy’ is portrayed by Dina Hansen and she is up to the task of being almost continually on stage. Her obvious terpsichoreal background is obvious but her vocal projection and meter could use some tweaking. In the predominant roles, Claudia Spadafora is a standout. She sings, acts up a storm and holds her own in the dance numbers – whether duet or as part of the choral numbers. The entertainer is ‘Reno’ and Alessia Hughes defines the poetry she recites in the duet ‘You’re the Top’…she is! Her rendering of the hit song ‘I get a Kick out of You’, and her duet with Spadafora – ‘”Friendship” earned opening night whistles. The title song still earns covers & radio exposure, but to this scribe, it’s the third stanza ‘If it’s fast car you like; low bars you Like; old hymns you Like; bare limbs you Like; Mae West you Like; me -undressed you Like”; that sounds as if taken verbatim from today’s teen-aged vocabulary. The word ‘like’ seems to be included after every third word! Check it out with your friends.
There are a couple of major choral numbers that are almost professionally choreographed and executed. The Act II “Blow Gabriel, Blow” extravaganza and especially the title song will definitely elicit some sing (or hum)-a-longing by audiences familiar with the lyrics.
Among the support cast there are a couple of notables:- the diminutive Claire Baguio as ‘Luke’, one of the converts (originally named ‘Ching’ & ‘Ling’ ); and especially Joshua Marando who has a small part as Bishop Henry Dobson, in addition to his chorus participation. Both possess 1,000-watt smiles that reflect sincere pleasure in what they’re doing ,as opposed to the insouciance noticeable with Miss America contestants or Busby Berkeley dancers of the forties… whose smiles seem pasted on (note: forgive the prepositional ending) .
On the negative side, the orchestra under Cordell Lewis seems to lack any rehearsing, especially the brasses. The technical errors weren’t just a semi-tone off, but almost an octave off-key. Somehow, the performers on stage were able to maintain their vocal ranges in spite of the atonality at stage-rear.
‘Anything Goes’ has something for everyone who enjoys musical theatre, even yours truly took heart from Porter’s advice’ about “writer’s who once knew better words; now use only four-letter words”. I now rarely incorporate terms such as “s*^t” in my columns. The play runs until March 3rd.