Big, bold and drenched in fun, ‘Anything Goes’ sets sail at Cabrillo Stage
Part Two of Cabrillo Stage’s triple summer threat promises to be a show-stopping voyage. The creative ship that is “Anything Goes” opens this week as part of Cabrillo’s plan to take a bite out of the Big Apple this season—“A Chorus Line” opened recently to rave reviews; “Escaping Queens,” written by local Joe Ortiz, opens in August.
It’s hard to deny the allure of seemingly irresistible “Anything Goes,” which has been produced in numerous runs, both on and off Broadway—and on film and television—since its original conception in 1934. With music and lyrics by Cole Porter, songs like “You’re The Top,” “It’s De-Lovely,” “Let’s Misbehave,” “All Through The Night” and, of course, “Anything Goes” quickly became all-time favorites, somehow remaining forever popular in pop culture.
And the musical’s plot, well, it is, perhaps, one of the most easily embraceable pieces of theater around.
Lovesick Wall Street broker Billy Crocker stows away aboard the S.S. American, desperate to win the heart of the lovely Hope Harcourt. But darling Hope is off to England to marry the stiff-and-proper Sir Evelyn Oakleigh. Toss in a gangster a la Moonface Martin—a.k.a. Public Enemy No. 13 (never a lucky number)—and his gal-pal Erma, who have disguised themselves as pristine religious types, and you have the makings of wonderful musical theater shenanigans.
But let’s not forget Reno Sweeney, the powerhouse of a singer, who becomes the center of a game of mistaken identifies and lovesick mayhem. Fans of Cabrillo Stage will recognize Briana Michaud here as Sweeney—the dynamite, unforgettable performer, brought down the house in “Cabaret” several seasons back. Another popular Cabrillo performer, Andrew Ceglio, steps into the shoes of Billy Crocker. Other cast members include Nina Feliciano as Hope, Max Bennett-Parker as Moonface Martin, Anethra Moura as Erma and Robert Coverdell as Sir Evelyn Oakleigh. The show is directed and choreographed by Kikau Alvaro, with musical direction by Michael J. McGushin.
“It is absolutely the ‘Anything Goes’ you are expecting to come to see, but, in addition, it has its own special energy and kick to it,” says Alvaro. “I wanted to present this show as is, embracing all of the ’30s attributes—the tone, the tempo, the comedy, the fun of it. It’s such a great show to get lost in. I really took it from the point of view of a modern audience today being drawn into a whole new world.”
That world includes approximately 28 performers, with a main core of 16 dancers—from sailors to passengers. But it’s the leads—Michaud and Ceglio—that have the unique responsibility of setting the tone and pace of the show.
“Briana [as Reno Sweeney] is somebody that, when you listen to her voice, it just resonates to your soul,” Alvaro notes. “It’s unmistakable, it’s beautiful, it’s everything you would want in a character.”
That’s high praise, especially for a revered character brought to life by the likes of Ethel Merman (on stage and film) and, more recently, Patti LuPone, on Broadway.
Actually, the history of the show is an interesting ride, and it wasn’t often smooth sailing.
Back in the 1930s, the show was originally conceived by producer Vinton Freedley while he was a stowaway on a fishing boat in the Gulf of Panama—apparently he was fleeing the U.S. to escape his creditors. The premise morphed into something bigger: What if an ocean-liner was threatened by shipwreck? Later, after his debts were cleared and he was back in New York City, Freedley rallied together Cole Porter, Guy Bolton, P.G. Wodehouse and the force of nature that was Merman.
It appeared as if things were finally moving along nicely, but script and other production dilemmas ensued. It didn’t help matters when, in September of 1934, during rehearsals, a passenger ship sailing from Havana to New York met disaster by catching fire. The tragedy killed 137 passengers and crew members before the ship breached near Ashbury Park.
Freedley immediately found himself revamping the entire concept of the show as a result. Director Howard Lindsay was said to have taken the creative ball from there, reworking much of the book with press agent Russell Crouse—the duo eventually became longtime writing partners.
“Anything Goes” opened in November, 1934, nearly three months after the passenger ship disaster. Merman, in the lead role of Reno Sweeney, certainly stood out. The combination of her robust vocals and Porter’s indelible music, were an unforgettable force to reckon with on stage.
London audiences beckoned, and most assumed the show would have the winds of fate fueling its engines from there, but two years later, Hollywood offered more head-scratching.
The 1936 film version, starring Bing Crosby and Merman, was dramatically different in tone and concept—and music. The book and score were revamped and only two songs from the stage version remained. Flash-forward to 1954 and television audiences found themselves watching yet another creation, which included more of the original songs with additional tunes from other Cole Porter productions. By 1956, a second movie version—with Crosby, Donald O’Connor and Mitzi Gaynor—found the story yet again re-imagined, this time with additional songs by two men who would become legends: Sammy Cahn and James Van Heusen (the men behind the songs “All The Way” and “High Hopes,” among others).
There’s more. The second film version of “Anything Goes” forced the first film version (1936) to be retitled Tops is the Limit.
And, because whenever creative madness rolls out, it tends to grow, the creators of the 1962 off-Broadway revival found the script reworked once again, this time weaving in several of the reworked changes from the film versions. More than 20 years later, the 1987 revival—the one Cabrillo Stage audiences will be experiencing—found even more tweaks in addition to a re-orchestration of the score, which also included several songs that had been left out in previous versions.
So, nearly 80 years since its original creative voyage, one has to ask: What is the allure? What has kept audiences intrigued throughout the decades?
Alvaro is candid: “I think it is the penultimate musical theater show. It is exactly what the audience wants in a musical comedy. You have beautiful songs, beautiful ensemble chorus dancers, voices, personalities, and more.
“It’s so classic,” he adds, “and so in opposition to the other Cabrillo offerings, like ‘A Chorus Line,’ which is this modern, sort of stripped-down show. Here, you have the big, broad, show-stopping numbers of a musical theater show.”
He’s noting the performance of the actual song, “Anything Goes,” filled with plenty of tap dancing, beautiful girls and leaping sailors. But watch for how profoundly effective “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” is—it could be the show’s most memorable performance.
“For me, it’s so exciting, because the design of the orchestration is that it starts in this soft place and builds and it has coloring in it—horn sounds—and great choreography,” Alvaro says of “Gabriel.”
And as for what makes everything gel with such a huge cast, the director adds that much of its success—thus far—has to do with solid teamwork. “You are really only here because you have the talents of all these other people to support you,” he says. “In my experience, the Cabrillo Family has been nothing less than professional and top-notch.”
Or, in Cole Porter speak, that must mean: They’re the Tops.
“Anything Goes” runs July 27 through Aug. 19 at Cabrillo Stage’s Crocker Theater, 6500 Soquel Drive, Aptos. For tickets and showtimes, visit cabrillostage.com or call the box office at 479-6154.