Pat Launer, Center Stage on KSDS JAZZ88
January 10, 2014
Just about anything goes in staging “Anything Goes.” The last-minute re-work of the 1934 musical boasted four high-profile writers, not necessarily working together, with another two added for the 1987 revival. All of which results in a hodgepodge storyline that’s nothing short of ridiculous. But the inanity is redeemed by the mind-blowing score of standards by Cole Porter, he of the catchy melody and whip-smart lyrics.
Given the mishmash of the show, a director has many options. He can play it kind of straight, and let the moldy laugh-lines thud where they will. He can amp it up it like a screwball comedy. He can take it to the meta level, with performers winking at the audience, doing triple-sized double-takes and groaning along with the onlookers. He can let the acting fall by the wayside and just focus on fabulous singing. Or go for phenomenal dancing, with tap taking the lead.
At some point during his high-octane, colorfully-costumed production at the Welk Theatre, director/choreographer Ray Limon does all of the above. Those double-takes and rim-shots get a little old in the first act. But things settle down as the singing and dancing take over. And they do steal the show. But given such a tonally varied approach, with character taking a backseat to shtick and some performances outlandishly over the top, the production underscores the weaknesses of the show itself: the fact that so few of the songs are sufficiently motivated either by character or plot.
Don’t try to make sense of the absurd number of mistaken identities; the cluelessness of the crew of the S.S. American, London-bound from New York; the decidedly un-PC, stereotyped representation of Asians; the timely hero-worship that makes having a Public Enemy or two onboard an exciting addition for the passengers; or the fact that the main character, the deliciously devilish Reno Sweeney, is an evangelist turned nightclub singer. What’s the diff? She gets the greatest songs, from the title tune to “You’re the Top,” “Friendship,” “Blow Gabriel, Blow” and “I Get a Kick Out of You.”
So did I get a kick out of it? Most of the time. “Anything Goes” is a classic, endearing in all its flawed zaniness. The writers associated with it are classics, too: P.G. Wodehouse & Guy Bolton; Howard Lindsay & Russel Crouse; Timothy Crouse & John Wideman .
At the Welk, the cast of 17 is skillful in its singing, bouncy and ebullient in its dancing, especially the tap numbers. The acting is a lot more variable. They all look great in their multi-change costumes, though the wigs are kinda cheesy. The five-piece band, under the musical direction of Justin Gray, provides buoyant backup.
If you go in with the title in mind, you’re bound to have a good time. Just remember, Anything Goes.
“Anything Goes” runs through March 23 at the Welk Theatre in Escondido.
©2014 PAT LAUNER