Written by Scotty Keister
Cole Porter’s Anything Goes could be called the granddaddy of jukebox musicals, although it didn’t really start out that way. Originally produced on Broadway over eighty years ago. The songs were in large written by Porter for the show and they hung on the flimsiest of premises, the book being completely overhauled several times before it opened. Over the years, the show has seen a dozen major revivals between Broadway and London’s West End, each one adding or subtracting songs from Porter’s broad canon of tunes. Each revival picks up a boatload of awards so it’s no surprise it’s retained its popularity over the decades and still gets produced regularly to this day.
Photo Credit: Lisa Scarsi
One More Productions currently is throwing their top hat into the ring with a sparkling, toe-tapping, old school revival at the beautiful Gem Theatre in Garden Grove, directed by Damien Lorton, and featuring a live band. The Gem’s show uses a libretto based on more recent revivals, including a number I haven’t found listed in any other revival’s repertoire—in fact it’s not even listed in the program: Porter’s classic “Night and Day.” It’s a far more somber tune than any of the upbeat pop tunes in the show, and as such feels a bit out of place, but that’s the nature of the jukebox. The show’s story itself is a bit of fluff, taking place on an ocean cruise and featuring several cross-cutting love stories and cases of mistaken identity, all very broad and vaudevillian. The humor is not always successful, but the performances are endearing and the energy and good nature of the cast carried me right along with them. Plus, a stage full of tap dancing is not something you see every day, and it’s pretty impressive. The Gem has a nice big proscenium stage(the part of a modern stage in front of the curtain;Websters) to fit this cast of thirty or more.
Alex Bodrero, as the smitten Billy Crocker, has a kind of Jimmy Stewart charm to his performance, although his voice in the upper tenor range strains at times. Adriana Sanchez, as the New York showgirl Reno Sweeney, does her best impression of Ethel Merman, who originated the role, and pulls it off with aplomb; her voice reaches the back of the house and then some. Nicole Cassesso as the squeaky-voiced gangster’s moll Erma has an effervescent comic energy. When Cassesso is onstage you can’t take your eyes off of her. Ira Trachter as Moonface Martin the low level gangster, does a good job of aping Art Carney, and Chris Harper as Evelyn Oakleigh the English Lord, has some prime comic moments as well. The rest of the ensemble contributes fine voices and some dazzling dancing. When the stage is filled with the whole cast belting out “Anything Goes” or “I Get a Kick Out of You” you can’t help but get a little charged up, then walk out smiling. It’s fluffy, but fun.
Photo Credit: Lisa Scarsi
It must be pointed out, the Gem accomplishes a feat I rarely see in stage musicals in OC, and that is they use no headset mikes for the cast. Instead, the band is placed behind the stage, putting all the singers in front with the set between them. This nifty device enables the audience to hear the singers virtually 95% of the time, which is a remarkable and quite welcome departure from what I’m used to. I never like seeing mike wires taped to the sides of actors’ faces; half the time they don’t work, plus the un-miked cast are harder to hear. I salute the Gem for solving this problem so simply. Of course, it helps to have a big enough space to pull this off.
The show runs thru May 3, Thursday through Saturday nights with Sunday matinees. You could do a lot worse than a bubbly Cole Porter musical for a weekend, and this production has all the bubbles.
April 9th 2015 – May 3rd