Cole Porter’s quirky musical, “Anything Goes,” gets first-class treatment from Music Theatre Louisville and director Wendy McClellan. With some strong performances, fun dance routines, engaging costumes and musical favorites such as the title song, “I Get a Kick Out of You” and “It’s De-lovely,” the production is a good summertime diversion, despite a few water-logged moments that come mostly from scene transitions.
Porter’s musical about people in love or finding it is set on an ocean liner, so scenic designer Eric Allgeier and master carpenter Emily Meyer turn the Iroquois Amphitheater stage into a two-level boat deck. In a nice touch, a small orchestra led by Craig Swatt perches on the deck’s highest level.
The ship sets sail with a frenetic embarking of passengers Hope Harcourt (Abigail Bailey Maupin), her mother Evangeline (Loretta Popp Wittman) and her fiancé Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Robert McFarland). Billy Crocker (Tyler Bliss), who is in love with Hope, boards the boat as a stowaway under the guise of a gangster named Snake Eyes. Billy’s boss, the ever-inebriated Elisha Whitney (Dan Bullington), a buxom bombshell named Erma (Carly Stotts) and a second gangster, Moonface Martin (the excellent and funny Gregory Maupin) round out the cast.
Billy, celebrated for being the notorious goon, is determined to stop Hope’s wedding. Oakleigh spends his time bumbling through American colloquialisms, while Moonface poses as a minister to hide his gangster identity. All of this leads to amusing misunderstandings and mix-ups.
Oh, there is another character to mention. Reno Sweeny. The ship’s on-board entertainer is superbly played by Bridget Witzke. Witzke sashays, twirls and slinks her way through several numbers, including two romping duets, “Friendship” with Maupin and “You’re the Top” with Bliss. Witzke’s “I Get a Kick Out of You” was a bit syrupy. Her voice slid from one word to the next, but she quickly proved capable of more.
Reno is always dressed in something colorful or silky or that whirls perfectly when Witzke spins. Her routine is to entertain via “conversion,” but not in a “renounce your sins and save your soul” kind of way. Reno’s conversion occurs when a person agrees to engage in more sin and often. In the musical number “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” Reno and her four muses (Virtue, Purity, Charity and Chastity) appear in faux gold lame preacher’s robes that are quickly shed to reveal red, glittery, sexy outfits. This conversion convention adds some fun moments — including when Reno asks to be led beside distilled waters — but Porter leaves little explanation for why so much fun is poked at religion … and debauchery, for that matter.
I was also left with a question about how a scene was performed and directed. To stop Hope’s wedding, Moonface and Billy, disguised as two Chinese passengers, imitate about every bad Chinese stereotype from bad martial arts moves to Chinese Engrish. It felt out of place, and I felt guilty for laughing.
BY DANA NORTON