When the sublime, sophisticated songsmith Cole Porter collaborated with Brits P.G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton on the enduring confection Anything Goes, the time was 1934, seven years after Show Boat demonstrated that musicals could take on weighty material.
Porter and his writing team – which eventually included play doctors Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse – knew perfectly well of the revolution occurring in the genre, but they were content to stick with a gag-laden farce whose main job was to get us to the next hummable tune.
That the show continues to be revived nearly 90 years later, with a score chock full of American standards, is a testament to the talents of its creators and the fact that musical theatergoers chiefly want to have some laughs and hum along to catchy melodies. All of this is to say they will get exactly what they crave at the Wick Theatre, where Anything Goes goes swimmingly indeed.
The Boca Raton company enlists the reliable Norb Joerder, who knows how to stage and build a production number into tap-happy pandemonium. Just witness what he (and choreographer Oren Korenblum) do with the title tune, followed soon after – after intermission, that is – by “Blow, Gabriel, Blow.” Neither song has much to do with furthering the plot, but boy are they back-to-back showstoppers.
That plot, by the way, concerns a tangle of mismatched lovers and how they eventually get sorted out. You see, saloon singer turned evangelist Reno Sweeney (Aaron Bower) is mad for Wall Street underling Billy Crocker (Jeremy Benton), who stows away on an ocean liner headed for England so he can woo Hope Harcourt (Alexandra Van Hasselt). She, however, is engaged to Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Paul Louis), mainly to help her mom (Britte Steele) out of a severe money crunch. Also onboard, to the delight of the ship’s celebrity-starved crew, is two-bit crook Moonface Martin (Barry Pearl), who poses as Public Enemy Number One.
In short, Anything Goes is long on characters and plot, and none of it much matters. Chances are you will be thinking, “Oh, get to the next song already,” which the show mostly does.
Even if you have never seen Anything Goes, you know many of its musical numbers – “You’re the Top,” “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “Easy to Love” and the title tune, to name a few. In addition, the revised script – reworked by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman for a 1987 Lincoln Center revival – drafted “Friendship” and “It’s De-Lovely” from other Porter shows.
Often relegated to supporting roles, Bower is absolutely winning as headliner Reno, and she fills out Travis M. Grant’s flashy gowns fetchingly. OK, so she is nowhere near the tapper that Benton is, but notice how deftly Joerder maneuvers her offstage for much of the “Anything Goes” number that Reno is usually at the center of.
Louis is delightfully deadpan as stick-in-the-mud Lord Oakleigh and Pearl clearly is having fun winking at the audience and delivering groaner puns as Moonface. In the ‘30s, apparently everyone in the cast got a moment in the spotlight, which explains why Moonface’s moll Erma – a very minor character – gets a solo at the 11th hour with “Buddie, Beware.” It makes no dramaturgical sense, but Leah Sessa sure sells it for all it’s worth.
Scenic designer Ardeen Landhuis devises a very serviceable double-decker steamship set, lighted in candy colors by Kirk Bookman. Although much of the production budget goes to the largest cast the Wick has ever assembled in its nine-year history, it remains disheartening that the theater feels it cannot afford a live orchestra.
With that liability noted, it must also be noted that it would be hard for anyone to not have a good time at this Anything Goes.
ANYTHING GOES, The Wick Theatre, 7901 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton. Through Sunday, Feb. 12. $79-$89. Call (561) 995-2333 or visit thewick.org.