Cabrillo Stage hits a homerun with ‘Anything Goes’
There are pros and cons to producing one of Broadway’s most adored musical comedies, littered with hits by one of the most quoted American Songbook composers of the 20th century. Among the pros? Everyone knows the songs. The cons? Everyone knows the songs. Fortunately for Santa Cruz theater fans, Cabrillo Stage deftly avoids the pitfalls of familiarity and presents Cole Porter’s endearing vehicle, “Anything Goes,” to great success.
On opening night, the house lights dim and the overture begins. The majority of the audience is already dancing in their seats as orchestra conductor Jon Nordgren leads the able musical crew through samples of hits to come. The woodwind section is especially delightful—there is no arguing with the charming combination of clarinet and wood block. The music sets the mood, and director/choreographer Kikau Alvaro guides us through witty dialogue and carefree dance steps with a deft hand. Clearly he has a soft spot for this simpler (in hindsight) time. Perhaps because he knows that this show has it all: a trans-Atlantic crossing with a pining putz, an innocent ingénue, a bumbling Brit, ditzy dames, affable gangsters, mistaken identities, jailbirds and a triple wedding. (Is it possible to have a spoiler for a 78-year-old show?)
Once the overture ends, there is a brief moment for the performers to gain the trust of the audience; a window of opportunity to turn ticket-buyers into believers. This duty is handled effortlessly by Briana Michaud as Reno Sweeney (an infamous nightclub evangelist). Within minutes of the opening lines of dialogue, she sweeps us up into “I Get A Kick Out of You,” and we know we’ve booked passage on the right ship. Her magnificent voice and engaging demeanor have us hooked.
Andrew Ceglio is a comedic gem as the charming and lovelorn Billy Crocker, with vocal chops to match Michaud. The pair’s duet, “You’re The Top,” is playful, punctuated, and a deserved crowd pleaser. Another notable duet, “Friendship,” again features Michaud, this time with Max Bennett-Parker, delivering effortless comic relief as Moonface Martin (Public Enemy No. 13). The easy give and take, and the impeccable timing of these two is a joy to watch.
The most enjoyable aspect for this face in the dark is the subtle yet inarguable way the vocalists have made Cole Porter’s standards not as standard as we thought. It is a joy to hear these songs re-examined and fully owned by these relatively new voices. Songs that could be sung in our sleep become hits all over again, somehow made fresh without committing the crime of being made modern.
A special nod goes to Robert Coverdell as the lovable, blundering Sir Evelyn Oakleigh, presumed fiancé to the ingénue, Hope Harcourt. During the first act we see hints of his joyful characterization, and the second act delivers the gift of “The Gypsy in Me,” sung perfectly and danced hilariously, with Michaud. You will never see longer limbs and a more meaningful mug combine with such surprising grace and efficiency. Coverdell’s take on Oakleigh is superb.
The simple set design and breezy pales of the costumes’ color palette conjure images of classic travel ads with a hint of Gatsby. The muted light design sets the deck of the U.S. American aglow with romantic washes, including twinkling stars in the night sky. Skip Epperson, Kyle Grant and Maria Crush can count yet another visual success.
The 1934 script by PG Wodehouse and Guy Bolton shows signs of age, in particular the presentation of cartoonish Chinese (and not-so-Chinese) characters, however, some barbs still ring true. The celebrity of and unabashed gushing over assumed gangsters on this Atlantic crossing is still a stinging poke at a culture that awards gold records and fan pages to felons.
‘Anything Goes’ runs July 27-Aug. 19 at Cabrillo Stage’s Crocker Theater, 6500 Soquel Drive, Aptos. For tickets and show times, visit cabrillostage.com, or call the box office at 479-6154.
Photos: Jana Marcus