OREM — Catchy tunes, intricate dancing, and well-timed jokes make Anything Goes at Hale Center Theater Orem a fantastic experience. Cole Porter wrote the music and lyrics, which makes this show so awesome from the get-go, and Jennifer Hill-Barlow took it to a completely grandiose level as director and choreographer. I was amazed not only to see such singing, dancing, and acting talent onstage, but to realize that Hill-Barlow has the talent to also cover two major jobs of creating this show.
In this revised version of Anything Goes (with a new script by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman, based on the original script by P. G. Wodehouse & Guy Bolton and Howard Lindsay & Russel Crouse), there are two “couples,” one are old friends and the girl, Reno Sweeney (played by Ashley Gardner Carlson), is in love with Billy Crocker (played by Jared Young) but he has fallen in love with Hope Harcourt (played by Rachelle Elbert), who is engaged to marry Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (played by Cleveland McKay Nicoll). The marriage is being pushed forward by the money-grabbing mother, Evangeline Harcourt (played by Shaunna Thompson). Reno sides with her friends wishes, despite her love for him, and helps Billy get with Hope, and eventually finds love for herself as well. As the couples come together, gangsters, gambling, and disguises become necessary, steering the plot on a hazardous road of adventure.
Reno is not an easy role to play, so I was delighted that Carlson fit her perfectly. She had that nonchalant, self-reliant air that is necessary for the performance, and Carlson danced like a champion. I loved the difficult moves she accomplished in various partner dance scenes and how the lifts were so gracefully done. My favorite dance she did was “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” where Hill-Barlow gave the girls some moves that looked much harder than “flossing” and included not just arms and hips, but swift leg movements that required major agility. Her costume for that number was a beautiful shiny yellow color with a short beaded skirt and no back that was a perfect contrast to her previous church choir costume, and fit the message of the song.
Cole McClure was the mastermind behind these costume designs, as well as the set and sound design. McClure not only designed magnificent costumes for Carlson, but Elbert’s were astounding to say the least. She entered in the most dazzling sparkling radiant dresses of the early 1930’s with long translucent tresses down her arms or back, in romantic baby blues, pinks and yellows. I also enjoyed the costumes used for disguises, like Young’s old lady costume and the Chinese costumes.
Hill-Barlow’s choreography was full of beautiful moments, like when Young lifts Ellbert during the song “It’s De-Lovely,” and when Carlson does a back scissor kick way over her head while pushing off the well-secured cruise deck poles, hoisting her whole body into the air just inches away from the audience. I thought the song “The Gypsy in Me” was very creative with Nicoll and Carlson doing lifts and moves together that seemed ridiculous and awkward. At one point he lifts her up so she’s like the mast and he’s the boat, then flips her around, holding her behind his back, her straight as a pole. It was hilarious given the character of Lord Oakleigh in not only being awkwardly British, but adding his secret inner life. Nicoll had such a funny facial expression of just being happily ignorant, and he was blessed with the funniest lines in the show, like “I have hot pants for you.”
I’ve always enjoyed David Walker’s performances, and his portrayal of Elisha Whitney, Billy’s boss and millionaire turned trillionaire, was no exception. He carried around a tiny stuffed dog with a little Yale sweater, even making it bark without missing a line. I also loved the way Walker puffed out his belly and talked in a more guttural voice for this character.
One drawback in the otherwise excellent performances was Young’s performance as Billy. While I did enjoy him trying to swat the bluebird away from his face, I was confused as to why he was the leading man. First, his undesirable mustache perplexed me, and in the first scene I was confused that Reno was interested in him. The second problem was that Young seemed distracted throughout the show; most of his performances were half-hearted. When he sang, his microphone seemed loud enough, but he wasn’t. Also, Young’s first dance with Elbert was too bumpy, with his lifts and leading not looking as smooth as the rest of the show’s dances.
McClure’s set design and Cody Swenson‘s lighting design made the combination of a large-scale musical and an intimate space work. A nice touch was the porthole windows that showed not only the time of day, but the serene beauty of the endless ocean. There was also a beautiful sunset in one scene that was so vibrant, it seemed real. Likewise, the lounge and night club had smoke coming out with the classic neon sign and a bar, which was fun to look at.
But my favorite part of the show was that when huge dance numbers were happening, I was right there in the thick of it, able to see nearly every move. The tap number was so clear and easy to hear from such a close space. Hill-Barlow had Brittany Sanders and Stacia Hardy assist the tap choreography and it was not only delightful, delicious, and de-lovely, it was united and clean. The sight of a large cast dancing intricately and keeping their sounds together made me feel so happy.
Anything Goes makes me want to get a season pass to Orem Hale. There are so many wonderful things to make this show worthwhile, and it’s so funny and enjoyable, even for people who don’t normally enjoy musicals. The cast me feel like the cruise ship was moving with the waves, and I was coming along for the exciting ride.