If friends tell you they just saw Cole Porter’s musical “Anything Goes,” you might do well to ask, “Which one?”
There is the original 1934 version, as well as revival versions from 1962, 1987, 2002 and 2011. There are also two Bing Crosby film vehicles from 1936 and 1956, respectively. All of these versions are different from one another in terms of song selection and sometimes their respective plots. What they agree on is placing the tuneful melodies and clever lyrics of Porter in the foreground.
The version at Silhouette Stages at the Slayton House Theater in Columbia, Maryland, is beautifully directed by Conni Ross, with impressive choreography by Tina Marie DeSimone.
While the program notes claim it to be the version initially produced on Broadway by Lincoln Center Theater in 1987, it actually seems closer to the early 1960s incantation, with then-topical references to “Mr. Television” Milton Berle, for instance.
There are also some songs one no longer hears in “Anything Goes,” such as the spirited “Heaven Hop” and the slightly naughty “Let’s Misbehave,” though the latter song has regained currency in recent years through the characters of Phryne Fisher and Jack performing this song in the 1920s period television series “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.”
Todd Hochkeppel performed as the gangster Moonface Martin, Maddie Bohrer as his moll Bonnie, Ryan Geiger as the steady yet quirky Englishman Sir Evelyn and especially Robyn Bloom as woman evangelist-turned-entertainer Reno Sweeney imbue their characters with qualities which are larger than life. Not surprisingly, songs such as “Friendship” stand out due to the huge yet appealing personalities created for these characters by the actors and actresses. The players also amplify their characters by “speaking” using gestures and body language; this is especially true for “You’re the Top,” gesturing mouse ears for the reference to Mickey Mouse, for example.
Moonface Martin is an excellent comic character, and this especially shines forth in his kooky song “Be Like a Bluebird.” While the overtly comic and show tunes featured in this show are spectacularly enjoyable, some of the romantic songs may not work out quite as well as the “novelty songs” in this version of the show.
“You’re the Top,” “I Get a Kick Out of You,” and – of course – “Anything Goes” are some of the standards of the Great American Songbook which originated in this show.
The latter, in a performance led by Robyn/Reno, is a real-full-cast show-stopper. If you are missing your favorite Cole Porter song, you might have an opportunity to hear it during the intermission! During the break, we hear piped-in period recordings, including other Cole Porter songs not in the show, such as “Night and Day.”
The costumes are outstanding, exalting in the elegance of 1930s high fashion; the set and settings are also beautiful, based on a “streamline moderne” deck of an ocean liner, facilitating two stages as well as easy adaptations to represent cabins within the ship. Within these cabins, we even see Art Deco headboards to the beds.
The original “Anything Goes” was written in 1933, at a time when American mores were in a state of flux. As Porter writes in the play’s show-stopper anchor song, “Anything Goes”: Authors – who once knew better words, now only use four-letter words writing prose, Anything Goes. The world has gone mad today, and good’s bad today.
The success of this musical production comes from the witty songs, as well as from the mad-cap antics of the plot (on board a ship, with a gangster posing as a clergyman, a respectable business associate posing as a gangster, and a gangster moll, third-class women gamblers, and members of both upper and lower social classes mixing easily on deck). What was remarkable to the original viewers of the show, however, was probably the shockingly overt abandonment of Victorian-style morals and class structure of a generation before.
This question remains relevant to our current era, where the world seems to still be mad, with good still sometimes seen as bad.
Yet, given that the play has now lost much of its shock value, one might wonder, per the song “Anything Goes,” has some culturally-shared moral compass been irretrievably lost? While the question is raised, this production does not set out to answer this question; indeed, doing so would sacrifice the lightheartedness of the play. Rather, the question is celebrated, as well as the freedom in its wake, in the form of high musical entertainment!
The Silhouette Stages production of “Anything Goes” is thus warmly recommended. Above and beyond seeing a less-common version of the show, the production is utterly delightful (and delightful, delicious, and de-lovely, to quote lyrics from the show!) in its performance of wonderful Cole Porter songs and effervescent in its evocation of shipboard romance and musical comedy. Please note that the show only plays through March 24, so only one weekend remains of performances. Book passage now, or else you will miss the boat: Bon voyage!
“Anything Goes” runs through March 24 at Slayton House Theatre, located at 10400 Cross Fox Lane, Columbia, MD 21044. For more information see http://www.silhouettestages.com/.