REVIEW: MLT delights with summer musical 'Anything Goes!'
By R. Andrew Strickland
(Originally published in the Macon Telegraph, July 26, 2005.)
Welcome aboard! Your fabulous trans-Atlantic cruise includes all the usual amenities: a dancing crew of sailors, a cabaret act, celebrity-hunting vacationers, traveling businessmen, young couples in love, and the occasional gangster thrown in for good measure. On the ocean liner S.S. American, "Anything Goes!"
The ship and its zany passenger list form the backdrop for this bubbly musical, the first offering of Macon Little Theatre's 2005-2006 season.
Featuring music and lyrics by legendary composer Cole Porter, "Anything Goes!" debuted on Broadway in 1934 with Ethel Merman in the leading role of Reno Sweeney. Considered by some to be the quintessential musical of the 1930s, the show was hugely successful both in its initial run and numerous revivals.
As with any star vehicle show, "Anything Goes!" requires much of its lead actors. In the Macon Little Theatre production, these roles are filled admirably by Christine Kiel (Reno Sweeney) and F. Michael Haynie (Billy Crocker). Both performers possess the charisma vital for their respective roles. Kiel plays edgy cabaret singer Reno with a strong, sassy flair, while Haynie brings a glowing energy to the love-struck Billy.
The rest of the principal cast is quite good too. Laura Peacock brings a sweet charm to the conflicted Hope Harcourt, while Athens Carter plays the milquetoast Lord Evelyn Oakleigh to great comic effect. John T. Jones (Elisha Whitney), Janet Carter (Evangeline Harcourt), and Jenny Carroll (Erma) all use their moments in the spotlight well.
But this production is often stolen away by Dan Byrd in the role of lovable gangster Moonface Martin. Blessed with a larger-than-life presence in a small frame, Byrd is the comic backbone of "Anything Goes!" He is equally effective with physical comedy and verbal repartee, igniting the laughs in every scene he inhabits.
Perhaps the only drawback to the cast's performance is the nearly constant tendency to mug to the audience rather than truly developing character. The characters in "Anything Goes!" are certainly not written with much depth, rarely advancing from basic comic archetypes. Still, there is enough character there to deserve a deeper exploration. While the character work may lag, the cast succeeds uproariously with the comedy.
That said, any show featuring the glorious songs of Cole Porter is centered on one thing: the music. Here the cast, under the tutelage of music director Laura Voss, is in fine form. The ensemble numbers are particularly powerful, utilizing the full harmonies with a rich sound. The principals perform their songs with a musical zeal that is quite contagious. These are familiar songs, and the cast reintroduces them like old friends. There are a few moments when soloists are singing slightly outside of their ranges, but these difficult passages are generally handled solidly if not with quite the virtuosity of the rest of the show. The fine singers are supported wonderfully by an onstage orchestra, once again under the direction of Voss.
"Anything Goes!" has a long reputation as a dance show, and the Macon Little Theatre production is no different. Choreographer Pam Mielarczyk deserves a long ovation for her work on this show. Mielarczyk uses the various levels of dancing talent in the cast incredibly well, particularly in the tap finale to the first act. This densely layered piece is wonderfully kinetic and entertaining - a true showstopper.
The technical elements of "Anything Goes!" are more than adequate. Scenic designer and technical director Zach Broome brings the foredeck of the S.S. American to life with a strong two-level design. Other locales are handled effectively, if rather simply.
The costumes, from costume mistress Wanda Hulett and several assistants, are appropriate and attractive, while Tony Pearson's lighting supports the production well.
Through the efforts of director Joe Ginnane, "Anything Goes!" is effectively staged and well paced, with comic moments honed to a razor-sharpness.
Cast members seem to really be enjoying themselves, and the audience is quickly swept up in this wave of enthusiasm. "Anything Goes!" is a musical voyage well worth the taking.