CEDAR CITY — Everyday life very rarely includes spontaneous moments of song and dance (although flash mobs are pretty “in” right now), but those musical scenes seem perfectly normal on a stage. Despite the glitter, neon lights, and finely tuned accompaniment, the hope is that we, as an audience, will believe the story and identify with it. When we understand the characters and can see ourselves in their shoes, a musical becomes reality. Without that connection, the play that we are watching on stage can feel a lot like fluff.
The revised script of Anything Goes was written by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman. In it, Billy Crocker (Robert Adelman Hancock) stows away on a luxury cruise ship with the intent of winning over a girl. Her name is Hope Harcourt, and she happens to be engaged. Hope’s mother is thrilled that she is marrying the wealthy Lord Evelyn Oakleigh. Billy, though, is determined to stop the wedding, and luckily he has help from a few creative, shady characters. The cruise ship becomes pretty chaotic as several contrasting characters cross paths.
Judged as a song and dance production, I was nothing but pleased with this show. The Utah Shakespeare Festival brings together a talented orchestra led by Jeremy Mann; I was thrilled to hear them in their near perfection. And every voice in the cast matched that quality. Rhett Guter’s choreography was varied and interesting; I loved the crispness of the steps and the staging. Tap-dancing sailors are just impossible to frown at (Rhett Guter, Steven Rada, James N. Scully, and Ian Taylor). Of these charming sea men, Guter was my favorite; besides dancing, he was in character, giving one hundred percent in every moment.
Cole Porter’s music and lyrics were new to me, so I found songs that I liked and ones that I didn’t. Two melodies seemed odd to me upon this initial introduction: “Easy to Love” and “All Through the Night.” But many more songs felt catchy and clever. I particularly enjoyed “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “Friendship,” and “De-lovely.” “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” wasn’t my favorite song, but the scene was extremely well executed. Reno’s Angels (Natasha Harris, Deanna Ott, Jennifer Smith, and Molly Wetzel) and the aforementioned sailors executed their choreography with exactness; they lit up the stage. There was a “steamy” part in that number that I really liked: it was great to see facial expressions beyond a simple smile or frown.
Elizabeth Telford, as Hope Harcourt, was not as human as the story needed her to be. As Billy’s love interest, the show demanded a lot of her. She was proper and pleasant and had an upper class 1930’s voice and appearance. But Telford’s facial expressions were mild. These qualities fit her character, I suppose, and were probably what director Brad Carroll wanted. But I just couldn’t connect with her—her acting failed to make stakes seem high enough. Similarly, while Billy was pursuing Hope, I was disappointed by his low level of emotion; I wanted to feel like his life depended on her. I wanted chemistry! As I said, it’s likely that this cast met the objectives for this play or time period, but it left me so unsatisfied.
There were roles in the show that excited me. Melinda Parrett was a magnetic Reno Sweeney. Her enthusiasm and comedic timing enveloped the show, pushed it along. She had a fantastic singing voice and dazzled with her dancing. I thought Billy was an idiot for picking vanilla Hope over hot-sauce Reno. I was disappointed, though, by how easily she shifted into a helpful buddy after Billy ignored her affection. I wanted some inner turmoil, but this show kept things light and simple. Max Robinson (as Moonface Martin) was a wonderful complement to Parret’s character. “Friendship” was a fun scene, as they playfully teased one another and Moonface befriended Billy and joined his wedding-ruining plot. But I didn’t really catch why he and his moll (look it up) were on the ship at all, or why the criminal associate they mention was not with them. Cate Cozzens was delightful as the unexpected Erma. I never tired of seeing her on stage, as she shifted between sweet ditsy blonde and strong confident woman. I loved how expressive she was.
The other standout actor was Aaron Galligan-Stierle as Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (pronounced Eeevalyn). He’s a distinguished character from England, I believe, and he delights in quirky American slang. Galligan-Stierle provided my favorite scene of the play, singing “The Gypsy in Me.” This song had a wide range of notes that Galligan-Stierle breezed through, and hilarious lyrics that he delivered ardently. He is a talented actor and his solo was the highlight of my experience.
The costumes and set created punchy visual images and a feeling of Americana. Jo Winiarski’s set designs established the fun mood of the show before it began. The audience had a direct view of the boat deck, stairs, and upper level. There were tall wave-like structures on either side of the boat; they weren’t realistic by any means, but that allowed versatility. For example, in some scenes the “waves” were lit red (lighting designer Jaymi Lee Smith), which added a nice ambiance. I also liked the use of circles and symmetry in the design. Costumes were pretty fantastic all around (costume designer K. L. Alberts). The shipmen looked crisp and clean, the ensemble characters reflected the times, and Reno’s dresses never disappointed. My favorite costume moments were showgirl numbers. One had the sailors all neat in white, Reno’s angels in cute blue rompers, and Reno in red. Patriotic colors and tap-dancing are soul-mates, I believe. I also loved the red dresses the angels wore in “Gabriel,” and their relation to Reno’s yellow-to-red gown. The costume designs added to the already fantastic song and dance numbers.
To the creators of Anything Goes, I have a few comments. I felt that Evangeline (Hope’s mother, played by Mindy B. Young) and Evalyn’s names were too similar; it confused me for a while. I was surprised as well by the sudden and unexplained return of Elisha Whitney’s (Joe Vincent) glasses. Also, it seemed to me that the show reached completely-ridiculous status when the characters sang “Public Enemy Number One.” It’s just a bonkers concept really, even with a committed cast.
There were some standout performances in the production, actors who were dynamic and interesting. They got me through the shallow times. Anything Goes is indeed a fluffy musical, but The Utah Shakespeare Festival has packed it with talent and quality. See it for the laughs, the dancing, the bright shiny stage pictures, and catchy songs.