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Anything Goes
Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter
Book by Guy Bolton, P.G. Wodehouse, Howard Lindsay, and Russel Crouse
Directed by Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy-Windsor
Choreographed by Michelle Sauer and Sara Rae Womack
New Line Theatre
March 2, 2018

Sarah Gene Dowling, Evan Fornachon, Aaron Allen
Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg
New Line Theatre

Anything Goes is Anything Goes no matter who produces it, right? Well, maybe not. New Line Theatre, known for its productions of edgier and lesser known shows, has taken this classic, “fun” show and given it a presentation that’s in several ways different than what’s come to be expected as usual. There’s an emphasis on satire and less of an emphasis on dance than other productions I’ve seen, but still, it’s Anything Goes, and the overall effect is energetic, smart, and very very funny.

This is a version of the show I haven’t seen on stage before. Most more recent regional productions, and also the 2011 Broadway revival, have been based on the 1987 revival script of the show. For this production, directors Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy-Windsor are using the 1962 script of the show, which has the same basic characters and plot as the later revival, but with some differences in specifics and in the songs featured, and also in the prominence of some characters. While evangelist-turned-nightclub singer Reno Sweeney (Sarah Porter) is still a major focus, as is Billy Crocker (Evan Fornachon), the overworked stockbroker in love with young debutante Hope Harcourt (Eileen Engel), and “Public Enemy #13” Moonface Martin (Aaron Allen), but that focus is shifted a little, and through a combination of the different script and New Line’s intuitive directing, we get to see a somewhat different look at these characters, as well as others such as Hope’s seemingly stuffy English fiance, Sir Evelyn Oakleigh (Zachary Allen Farmer), and Moonface’s partner-in-crime, the brash, flirtatious Bonnie (Sarah Gene Dowling), who was renamed “Erma” in the 1987 version. The focus on dance isn’t quite a prominent here either, but what’s there is still spectacular, along with the ever-present broad, sketch-style comedy, which is perhaps even apparent so than in the other version. Here at New Line, what we get to see is a sharp, witty, tuneful, and well-cast production that’s a delight from start to finish.

New Line artistic director and Anything Goes co-director Scott Miller mentions in his director’s notes in the program the timeliness of this show. Many of the themes, he notes, are just as prominent today as they were in the 1930s, when this show was orginally written, and the time period in which it sill takes place. The show at New Line isn’t as big as other productions I’ve seen, but, especially in terms of costumes (designed by Colene Fornachon and Sarah Porter), it’s as glam and glitzy as anyone would expect. With the sumptuous evening gowns, dapper suits, and varous nautical and gangster attire, the spirit of the 1930s has been brought to the stage well. Rob Lippert’s excellent unit set, representing the luxury ocean liner on which the action takes place, is also on point, as is his equally effective lighting. There’s also great work from the excellent New Line band, doing justice to the marvelous Cole Porter score and outfitted in sailor hats in accordance with the theme of the show, ably led by Music Director and “captain” Nicolas Valdez.

The cast here is a treat, led by the always excellent Porter as the brassy, bold, and also surprisingly vulnerable Reno Sweeney, with standout moments such as the solo “I Get a Kick Out of You”, production numbers “Anything Goes” and “Bow, Gabriel, Blow”, and a fun bit of harmonizing with co-stars Fornachon and Allen in “Friendship”. Her scenes with the wonderful Farmer as the initially jaded, bewildered, and ultimately endearing Sir Evelyn are especially engaging. There’s also top-notch work from Dowling in a scene-stealing performance as Bonnie, and from Allen in an impressive comic term as Moonface, the small-time crook who wishes he were big-time. Fornachon and Engel make a good pair as Billy and Hope, as well, with great duets on “It’s De-Lovely” and “All Through the Night”. Reno is well-supported by her “Angels” Purity (Michelle Sauer), Chastity (Larissa White), Charity (Alyssa Wolf), and Virtue (Sara Rae Womack), and there are also hilarious supporting performances from Kimmie Kidd-Booker as Hope’s mother, Evangeline Harcourt, and Jeffrey M. Wright as Billy’s on-again, off-again boss, Elisha J. Whitney. There’s also a strong ensemble in support. The usually excellent New Line singing is there, of course, joined by impressive, energetic dancing as well.

This is a slightly different Anything Goes than you may be used to, but that’s a good thing. It’s a fresh look at an older show, with a bright, memorable score of hits by a legendary composer, as well as delightful moments of broad comedy and some pointed satirical touches. And the cast is great, as well. It might not be the type of show one might expect from New Line, but the level of excellence is certainly on par with New Line’s best. It’s refreshing, bold, and lots of fun.

Sarah Porter, Zachary Allen Farmer, Eileen Engel
Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg
New Line Theatre

New Line Theatre is presenting Anything Goes at the Marcelle Theatre until March 24, 2018.

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Anything Goes
Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter
Original Book by P.G. Wodehouse & Guy Bolton, and Howard Lindsay & Russel Crouse
New Book by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman
Directed by Michael Hamilton
Choreographed by Stephen Bourneuf
STAGES St. Louis
July 22, 2015

Cast of Anything Goes Photo by Peter Wochniak STAGES St. Louis

Cast of Anything Goes
Photo by Peter Wochniak
STAGES St. Louis

In a way, Anything Goes could well be called one of the orginal “jukebox musicals”. It’s been performed in various versions for decades, with many lyric, song, and book changes, and the plot, while entertaining, is fairly slight. The show exists, essentially, to be a showcase for the songs of celebrated 20th Century composer and lyricist Cole Porter. It’s a lively show with lots of silly comedy and spectacular dancing, and it’s currently being performed in top-notch fashion at STAGES St. Louis.

The story is somewhat silly, but entertaining nonetheless. It follows nightclub singer Reno Sweeney (Julie Cardia) and friends on an ocean liner traveling between New York and London in the 1930s. Reno’s got something of a crush on her old friend, the handsome stockbroker Billy Crocker (Brent Michael DiRoma), but Billy’s newly smitten with young debutante Hope Harcourt (Heidi Giberson), who is sailing on the cruise with her mother (Kari Ely) with the aim of marrying rich English nobleman Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Dan Fenaughty). Meanwhile, gangster Moonface Martin (Bob Amaral), “Public Enemy #13”, is on the run from the law, and boards the ship in preacher’s disguise, bringing his friend Erma (Laura E. Taylor) along.  What ensues is a comedy of love triangles and quadrangles, as well as mistaken identity, gambling, singing and a whole lot of dancing.

The plot isn’t really one that bears a lot of scrutiny. It’s really just a platform for the songs and some some hilariously goofy comedy. Despite the various script updates over the years, the show does still come across as slightly dated, and there are some unfortunate stereotypes that are played for laughs. Still, for the most part it’s a fun show, and the real focus is on those lovely Cole Porter songs and Stephen Bourneuf’s spectacular choreography and excellent ensemble dancing.

This is a very ensemble-dependent show, considering all the stylish dance-numbers and intricately performed choreography. The ensemble sparkles on on numbers like the tap-dance heavy “Anything Goes” and the truly showstopping “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” led by the big-voiced Cardia as Reno.  Cardia also displays a strong sense of comedy, working well opposite both the charming DiRoma as Billy, the hilariously shady Amaral as Mooonface, and the delightfully goofy and thoroughly winning Fenaughty as Lord Evelyn.  All of these performers show great comedy skills and excellent voices, especially DiRoma, who also shares delightful chemistry with Giberson, who is also in excellent voice as Hope.  There are also fun comic performances from the always excellent Reichert as Billy’s nearsighted boss Elisha Whitney, and Kari Ely as Hope’s mother, socialite Evangeline Harcourt.  Flack as the Captain, Brennan Caldwell as the Ship’s Purser, and Taylor as Erma also give memorable performances. It’s a very strong cast, from the leads to the ensemble, working together to bring life to the classic Porter score and a great deal of laughs to the audience.

The set, designed by James Wolk, is striking, colorful and versatile, creating a vibrant 1930’s atmosphere. There are also some marvelously detailed and stylish costumes by Brad Musgrove. Sean M. Savoie’s lighting is effective and atmospheric, as well.

Ultimately, the point of Anything Goes is to entertain, and the production at STAGES does that well.  It’s a big, bold, stylish and energetic production that splendidly showcases the marvelous score and choreography. It’s also hilariously funny, with a decidedly silly sense of humor.  Despite a few drawbacks in the script, this is about as ideal a production of this show as I can imagine.

Brent Michael DiRoma, Heidi Giberson , and Ensemble Photo by Peter Wochniak STAGES St. Lousi

Brent Michael DiRoma, Heidi Giberson , and Ensemble
Photo by Peter Wochniak
STAGES St. Lousi

STAGES St. Louis’s production of Anything Goes is running at the Robert G. Reim Theatre in Kirkwood until August 16th, 2015.

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So, I recently got to go to New York for my brother’s wedding, and I took the opportunity to take in three Broadway shows while I was there.  It was so much fun to be able to walk around the Times Square area and just soak up the atmosphere.  I feel truly blessed to have been able to take in shows in the two greatest theatre cities on Earth (London and New York) in the same year, and it was fun to compare as well.  Overall, I think New York is bigger and flashier and London, while still big and flashy in its own way, is a little more relaxed.   I didn’t find myself wanting to move to New York when I always want to move to London, but I mostly chalk that up to the fact that I’m an unrepentant Anglophile and as far as I’m concerned (for the most part) things are just more fun when they’re British.  Still, this was New York City, and it definitely lived up to the hype.  I’d been there before, but not for over a decade and I had only seen two shows on Broadway before, so this time I took advantage of the chance to see as many shows as I could and just enjoy the Broadway atmosphere.  I hope I get a chance to go back many times in the future.  Here are reviews of the three shows I saw:

 Follies

Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

Book by James Goldman

Directed by Eric Schaeffer

Marquis Theatre, New York, NY

October 12, 2011

The chance to see this show was kind of a dream come true for me, since I’ve been a fan of Stephen Sondheim and Bernadette Peters since I was a teenager.  It was also great to be able to see London theatre legend Elaine Paige on stage as well, along with a top-notch cast of Broadway veterans.  This was  a classic Sondheim show with star-studded cast, and the production did not disappoint.

The mood is set the minute you walk in the door, as the relatively new Marquis Theatre has been transformed by set designer Derek McLane into a crumbling old variety house years past its prime and ready for demolition, with  a worn-out stage and black and gray sheets draped everywhere.  The “ghosts” of elaborately dressed showgirls haunt the space, wandering in and out of scenes and standing about on the various levels of scaffolding backing the stage.  It’s the story of a reunion of participants (mostly showgirls) from a Ziegfeld-like variety revue called the Weissmann Follies, which supposedly ran in this old theatre every year between the World Wars.  Here the former Follies girls update each other on how they have been and remember their glory days as young performers.  Some of the women seem to have few regrets and others have many, but for the central characters Sally (Peters) and Phyllis (Jan Maxwell), and their husbands Buddy (Danny Burstein) and Ben (Ron Raines), regret is still a major part of their lives, as played out in the events of the show as they revisit and recall their earlier selves, culminating in a Follies-styled “Loveland” fantasy sequence, where they portray the follies of their own lives, showbiz-style.

I don’t want to write a novel about this production, so I’ll have to condense my thoughts and just say it was wonderful.  The leads were universally well-cast, and the contrast between Peters’ depressed, delusional Sally and Maxwell’s bitter, sarcastic and cynical Phyllis was striking.  Both gave wonderful performances, but to my mind, Maxwell was the star of the show, giving a truly multi-layered performance. Her numbers “Could I Leave You?”, simmering with caustic wit, and “The Story of Lucy and Jessie”, in which she portrays her struggle between the younger and older versions of herself, were true highlights of the production.  She was also very well matched by Raines as the self-absorbed, self-destructing Ben.  Peters had a great moment with “Losing My Mind”, as well, perfectly portraying Sally’s obsessive love for another woman’s husband.  Peters is such a master of Sondheim’s material that all she has to do is stand onstage and sing, portraying the full emotional range of the song and holding the audience riveted.  Danny Burstein as the charming but conflicted Buddy also had some great moments, and together these four formed the center of the production.

Another strength to Follies, though, is that its structure gives many performers their moments to shine as the other former Follies girls tell their stories and remember their Follies performances.  Highlights from this production were Jane Houdyshell’s brassy “Broadway Baby” and Terri White leading the ensemble in a dance number with their younger counterparts in “Who’s That Woman”—a true show-stopping moment.  Paige’s gutsy ode to the ups-and-downs of a career in showbusiness, “I’m Still Here” was also a showstopper.  Also, veteran opera singer Rosalind Elias has a great, poignant duet with Leah Horowitz (as Elias’s younger self) on “One More Kiss”.  I could list more great moments, but I would just end up listing the entire song list, as the universally excellent cast delivered a strong production from start to finish.

The sets and costumes (costumes designed by Gregg Barnes) were elaborately done and helped to set the conflicting moods of showbiz energy and underlying darkness, and the “Loveland” sequence in the second act was a bright, fluffy (yes, fluffy) contrast to the dreary, dilapidated theatre setting of the rest of the show.  This production was truly marvelous from the performances to the look and and the feel for time and place.  I felt privileged to witness it.

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

Music and Lyrics by Frank Loesser

Book by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert

Directed and Choregraphed by Rob Ashford

Al Hirschfeld Theatre, New York, NY

October 13, 2011

For a lot of people, this production is simply thought of as “that show with the guy from Harry Potter”, but it’s really a whole lot more than that.  Sure, Daniel Radcliffe is front-and-center in the advertising–and he’s great in a very un-Potterlike performance–but no one performer can carry a show with such a large ensemble by himself.  This show, the second Broadway revival of the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1961 musical, is a full-scale, well-rounded production that looks great, sounds great and is a whole lot of fun.

This is a broadly satirical tale of a young window-washer, J. Pierrepont Finch (Radcliffe), who takes the advice of a book (narrated by CNN’s Anderson Cooper) in how to rise to the upper levels of management at the World Wide Wicket Corporation.  Along the way, he meets Rosemary (Rose Hemingway), a young secretary with lofty goals of her own, as well as the boss’s nephew Bud Frump (Christopher J. Hanke) who becomes his professional nemesis, and a varied host of secretaries,  office workers and corporate executives. .  The boss, J.B. Biggley, is played with a kind of goofy charm by the show’s other well-known star, John Larroquette (best known from the classic sitcom Night Court), and his scenes with Radcliffe are a delight.  The tone of this piece is satire, with many jabs at corporate culture that are still relevant today, but also with a very palpable 60s vibe provided by the excellent costumes and sets.

The performances are universally appealing.  The role of Finch demands an actor with loads of (seemingly) guileless charm, and Radcliffe delivers.  He does at times seem a little subdued in his acting, in contrast to the broadly comic tone of the show, but for the most part he is excellent, and his dancing skills are surprisingly adept.  Hemingway is perfectly cast as the secretary who pursues Finch romantically, and their chemistry together is sweet and believable.  Other stand-outs in the cast are Tammy Blanchard as ditzy bombshell secretary Hedy La Rue, with a look reminiscent of Joan from Mad Men and a voice reminiscent of Slappy Squirrel from Animaniacs, and the aforementioned Laroquette, who seems to be having an absolute ball in this part and owns the stage whenever he’s on.  Hanke as Frump makes for a effective bumbling “heel”, and  Mary Faber as Rosemary’s secretary friend Smitty and Ellen Harvey as Biggley’s secretary Miss Jones put in fine comic performances as well.

This is a dance-heavy show where the leads and the ensemble get quite a workout—there are dancing mail workers (“Company Way”), dancing secretaries (“Cinderella Darling”), dancing football players (“Grand Old Ivy”), dancing executives (“Brotherhood of Man”) and even dancing pirates (“Pirate Dance”), and all of the dancing is full of seemingly effortless energy.  “Brotherhood of Man” in particular stopped the show with its gradually building, stage-filling controlled chaos.  Radcliffe more than holds his own in this department, as does the fine ensemble.

I must also make special mention of the spectacular set.  Done in a colorful mid-century modern style with geometric patterns, shelves that slide out from the sides to serve as offices, and modules that are rearranged into various configurations as needed to suggest the corporate environment, the set serves very well to set the tone and mood of this production.  The color-shifting hexagon background  reminds me of a 60s game show, and there’s an authentic-looking, functional elevator as well.  Kudos to set designer Derek McLane for his excellent work here.

Overall, I had a great time at this show.  It’s much more than just Harry Potter on stage (in fact, it isn’t that at all).  It is a thoroughly entertaining, well-directed and choreographed satire of the business world, winningly performed by an appealing cast.  I highly recommend checking it out.

Anything Goes

Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter

Original Book by P.G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton, and Howard Linday and Russel Crouse

New Book by Timothy Crouse and John Wideman

Directed and Choregraped by Kathleen Marshall

Stephen Sondheim Theatre, New York, NY

October 16, 2011

This is the Tony Award-winning revival of the classic Cole Porter show, normally starring Sutton Foster and Joel Grey.  At the performance I saw, however, the understudies were on–Tari Kelly for Foster as Reno Sweeney, and Robert Creighton for Grey as Moonface Martin.  I could hear some not-so-subtle grumbling from some audience members at the fact that the marquee names were not performing, but by the end of the first act most such complaints were silenced, as both Kelly and Creighton gave wonderful, star-worthy performances.

This is a show about the music, really.  It’s Cole Porter hit after Cole Porter hit, with a somewhat silly but still very entertaining plot to string the songs together.  Most of the action takes place on an ocean liner in the 1930s, where nightclub singer Reno Sweeney performs her church-inspired act and multiple subplots ensue involving her friends Billy Crocker (Colin Donnell), a stockbroker who is in love with a debutante (Erin Mackey), and Moonface Martin, a small-time gangster who is on the run from the law. There is much energetic singing and dancing along the way, all expertly done by the excellent ensemble.

Kelly and Creighton were really the heart of the production, with stage presence and energy galore.  Kelly commanded the stage with numbers like “Anything Goes” and “Blow, Gabriel, Blow”, singing and dancing up a storm, and Creighton was delightful as Moonface, especially in his Act 2 number “Be Like the Bluebird”.  He did a wonderful job playing the “gangster with a heart of gold” with all the necessary charm and just the right hint of menace that made him believable as a gangster.  Also excellent were Donnell as the handsome, lovestruck Crocker and Mackey as his love interest Hope Harcourt, and the two had excellent chemistry and danced very well together in “It’s De-Lovely”.  John McMartin as Billy’s boss, the goofy old business tycoon Eli Whitney and Kelly Bishop as Hope’s mother, socialite Evangeline Harcourt provided some fun comic moments, and Adam Godley as Hope’s eccentric English fiancé Lord Evelyn Oakleigh was a sheer delight as well, putting a whole lot of energy into his number with Reno, “The Gypsy In Me”.

The dance numbers in this show were a real highlight, with energetic, tightly-executed routines, and the set (again by Derek McLane) was fun, as well.  The ship was constructed of various modules that could be rearranged and turned around to form the various set pieces, including the staterooms.  The meticulously detailed costumes by Martin Paklidinaz added to the 30s-era feel of the show as well.  Overall, I felt transported to the 1930s and had a great time joining the cast and crew on their voyage.

The moral of this story is, don’t be too disappointed when you see a show and find out the understudies are on.  You just might be pleasantly surprised, as I definitely was here.  Anything Goes was a complete joy of a show, and the understudy/leads more than held their own.  I would love to get a chance to see the regular players and compare, but as that option is unlikely, I will just be happy with what I did get, which was a wonderful performance from all.

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Kiss Me, Kate

Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter

Book by Samuel and Bella Spewack

Directed by John Going

The Muny, St. Louis

June 27, 2011

So, we got a double dose of Shrew in Forest Park this Summer. Last month, there was the wonderfully different production of The Taming of the Shrew by Shakespeare Festival St. Louis, and now the Muny brings us the classic musical variation, Kiss Me, Kate. Personally, I love this show. I love the 40s atmosphere, Cole Porter’s sharp, witty and sometimes hilariously raunchy songs, and the whole backstage dynamic of a troupe of actors and crew performing a pre-Broadway tryout of a show in post-WWII Baltimore.  It’s such a wonderful evocation of time, place and character, and the Muny’s production did an excellent job of taking the audience to that time and place.

Now it is time to gush a little.  I loved, loved, LOVED this production!  It’s not the most politically correct of shows, but it’s a whole lot of fun, and both sides in this battle of the sexes are equally matched. It’s the story of a theatre troupe in the 1940s as they are staging a musical production of The Taming of the Shrew, with the leads played by a bickering formerly married couple—stage veteran Fred Graham (Tom Hewitt) and stage-and-screen actress Lilli Vanessi (Lisa Vroman).  Their relationship is the center of a story that involves gamblers, actors, and lots of misunderstandings, as well as Cole Porter’s glorious score and wonderful, clever lyrics–for instance: “I’ll stay with you forever/or at least ’til you dig my grave” (from “Why Can’t You Behave”), and fun rhymes like “Demo-crassy”/Brassy/Lassie in “I Hate Men”, as well as the long list of bawdy Shakespeare puns in “Brush Up Your Shakespeare”, and the beautiful music ranging in style from love ballads  to jazz.  I love this score, and this production more than does justice to it.

There’s lots of verbal (and some physical) sparring and sparks flying between the two leads, Hewitt and Vroman.  It’s a very believable rocky relationship, and both actors perform their roles with gusto.  Vroman in particular has a clear, powerful voice which served the classic Cole Porter score well.  Hewitt offered a vivid, confident portrayal of an actor with a little too much ego.  His voice was also strong for the most part, except in “I’ve Come to Wive It Wealthily In Padua” which he acted wonderfully but seemed to struggle a bit in his lower range.  Overall, though, the show was made by his chemistry with Vroman, which was perfect.  I also loved the relationship between Lois Lane/Bianca (Andrea Chamberlain) and Bill Calhoun/Lucentio (the magnetic Curtis Holbrook).  Chamberlain played her role as a classic 40s bombshell to excellent comic effect, and Holbrook’s dancing stole the show whenever he got the chance to strut his stuff, in numbers like the sizzling “Too Darn Hot” and the delightfully goofy “Bianca”.  I also thoroughly enjoyed the performances of Conrad John Schuck and Lee Roy Reams as a pair of gangsters out to collect a gambling debt.  Their performance of “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” was a comic highlight.  St. Louis veteran actor Joneal Joplin also put in a solid performance as an aging actor portraying Kate and Bianca’s father, Baptista.

As a self-confessed ‘theatre geek”, I love the backstage atmosphere of this show, with references to the actors’ previous roles and future aspirations, as well as the stagehands and crew members involved with the production of the show.  The set varies from the more realistic backstage backdrops to the brightly colored, somewhat cartoonish set pieces in the Taming of the Shrew sequences.  The costumes in the play-within a play also call to mind photos I’ve seen of productions from that era.

For me, live theatre is about energy.  Often, energy is the key difference between a good performance and a great one.  This production was just crackling with energy from beginning to end.  The comedy was sharp, the dramatic moments were pitched just right, the singing and dancing were almost universally excellent, and even though there were one or two line flubs, the performers didn’t let that throw them off.  This was a glorious production, full of charm, verve, and color. It calls to mind years of Muny history—all those glamorous shows they used to do in the 40s that I am too young to have been able to see, but have seen pictures of in books.  It was joy for me to be able to attend this wonderful celebration of theatre in Forest Park.

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