Cajani Hurd & Audrey Lucas (center) & the cast of Anything Goes. Photo: YPAS
Music & lyrics by Cole Porter
Original book by Guy Bolton, P. G. Wodehouse, Howard Lindsay, & Russell Crouse
New Book by John Weidman & Timothy Crouse
Directed by Julie Evans
A review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2022 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
If your taste in musicals is old-school dancing and singing around a plot full of good-natured silliness, then Anything Goes is what you crave. A harmless tale of mistaken identity and misplaced love aboard an ocean liner crossing the Atlantic from New York to England, it boasts some of the most iconic songs from the great Cole Porter.
Wikipedia states the basic plot as: Billy Crocker is a stowaway in love with heiress Hope Harcourt, who is engaged to Lord Evelyn Oakleigh. Nightclub singer Reno Sweeney and Public Enemy Number 13, “Moonface” Martin, aid Billy in his quest to win Hope.
It is, of course, a good deal more complicated than that, with several characters masquerading as others and deliberately creating a good deal of confusion. Reno Sweeney is an evangelist turned nightclub singer with a hard-boiled persona that is much more the latter. And Moonface Martin is straight out of Damon Runyon, a gangster incapable of ever being a real threat.
Despite the number of names attached to it, the book is basically a light, non-sensical farce. Originally produced on Broadway in 1934, it perfectly encapsulates the early form of American musical theatre, before the integration of plot and score that would develop in the 1940s. A delightful blend of innocence and naughtiness was the order of the day before that.
Any production of this show would seem to require a two-level ocean liner deck for s set, and this one boasts a beauty. You must have two levels to make room for the large ensemble who dance all over the place. Amy Berry’s costumes are period perfect and glamorous, although an awkward fitting or two was unmistakable (beware the cutaway on white tie and tails). The stage was colorful, light, and fun.
Customary for YPAS, the principal roles are mostly double cast, so I viewed the Friday cast. It was led by the diminutive but dynamic Audrey Lucas as Reno. Lucas dances and sings like a pro, but also flashes what in 1934 would have been called “moxie”, a period specific term for a flashy, supreme confidence in a woman. She heads a line-up of young women who share similar talents: Sophia Sanders-Whiteley as Hope Harcourt is indecisive about love but there is no hesitation in her performance, and Elizabeth Froedge is cracker jack as Emma, friend of low-rate gangster Moonface Martin. She shines in “Buddie Beware” leading a boisterous number with four sailors. These three seem cut from the same cloth, with a range of skills that would allow them to easily swap roles.
The male roles are handled almost as well. Cajani Hurd is an earnest and heartsick Billy Crocker, mostly sweet and engaging, but I think the character requires a slippery bad boy quality that Hurd misses. His dancing is valiant and his singing voice has a rich flavor that would work well for jazz or modern music but feels a little off for brassy show tunes.
Riley McNerney is a riot as Moonface, as adroit in his comic timing as he is singing and dancing. His duet with Lucas in “Friendship” gave them both the chance to show what they can do. And he handles the comic ballad, “Be Like The Bluebird” with a deft touch.
There is an easy temptation to overplay roles such as these, and two other performances illustrate the contrast. Matthew Cook brushes up against that pitfall as Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, the supercilious English aristocrat intending to marry Hope, but he finds the discipline to pull back just enough, while Charlie Norman gets carried away as rich American business man Elisha Whitney, unfortunately muddling the comedy and his lyrics in pursuit of laughs.
The ensemble as a whole really clicks, and director Julie Evans, aided by no less than four choreographers (Zachary Boone, Paul McElroy, David Cesler, & student Matthew Cook) , puts them through their paces. Anything Goes boasts several big numbers, and the first act closer is the title tune, a never ending showcase of tap dancing that makes you wonder how Audrey Lucas has the energy to finish out the lead vocals after such a workout.
Among the many advantages available from the YPAS programs is a 29-piece student orchestra under the direction of John Austin Clark, and it was such a pleasure to hear this score played with such full color and feeling.
It’s hard to go wrong with Cole Porter. Next season, how about Kiss Me Kate?
Featuring Olivia Allen (Saturday), Liv Ashley, Lucy Bickers, Grayson Boehm, Matthew Cook, Annie Dauk, Catherine Dewberry, Logan Edwards, Mary Etscorn, Paige Franklin (Saturday), Elizabeth Froedge, Annabelle Gilvin, Anna Granger, Hope Gregory, Carter Hadley, Lena Hanson, Scarlett Henderson, Cajani Hurd, Bella Hynniman, Kameron Julien, Audrey Lucas, Riley McNerney, Brendan Miller, Lucy Napier (Saturday), Charlie Norman, Chase Phillips, Genna Pollio, (Saturday), Brennan Prather, T Russell, Sophia Sanders-Whiteley, Dereon Simpson, Emily Thomas, Gail Tobias, Ava Vibbert, Elise Wobbe, & Clark Worden (Saturday)
November 18, 19, December 2, & 3 @ 7:00 pm
Youth Performing Arts School
1517 S 2nd Street
Louisville, KY 40208
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of Artists Talk with LVA on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.