Theater Review: ‘Anything Goes’ is the top at MSMT
The Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre (MSMT) production of “Anything Goes,” through July 28, Dorothy Hess Baker Theater, Trexler Pavilion for Theatre & Dance, Muhlenberg College, Allentown, is exquisite.
From the bright, brassy, intense nine-piece orchestra conducted by Music Director Bryan L. Wade; to the classy, sassy tap-lines, of Choreographer Shelley Oliver; to the charming ocean liner set, which opens up like a pop-up book, by Scenic Designer John Raley, combined with Lighting Designer Gertjan Houben, to the profusion of women’s gowns, men’s suits and accessories by Costume Designer Michael McDonald, the show is dazzling.
“Anything Goes” pops, dances and fizzes with fun.
To paraphrase Cole Porter’s song, MSMT’s “Anything Goes” is “the Top.”
The play may be the thing, but in “Anything Goes,” the songs are the thing.
What’s neat about hearing the songs of Cole Porter in their original context is that you don’t get the shortened version, but rather the full version complete with the set-up, or introduction. Since Cole Porter wrote words and music, the lyrics and music in a Cole Porter song are as interlocking as Legos.
Cole Porter’s lyrics are so exaggerated and his music is so relentless that they’re as hilarious as they are infectious. Some are sung so fast a case could be made for Cole Porter as the original rapper.
To wit (Porter had that aplenty):
“Good authors too who once knew better words
Now only use four-letter words
Mia Scarpa (Reno Sweeney) delivers “Anything Goes,” the title song Act One closer with the bravura of an Ethel Merman and the confidence of a Judy Garland, accompanied by the cast of Passengers and Crew. The dancers can barely keep up with Scarpa’s fast-paced delivery, but they do.
Scarpa figures in several of the show’s main numbers. She clearly tells you who’s in charge with the musical’s opener, “I Get A Kick Out Of You,” which establishes her character and herself as a singer as the one to watch and wait for throughout the show.
Her “You’re The Top” duet with Sean Kenny (Billy Crocker) is one of the musical’s chief delights, only topped by “Friendship,” her duet with Bob Fahringer (Moon Martin), which is “the” show-stopper, a great patter song with accompanying rhythmic dancing.
Her tango with Jarrod Yuskauskas (Lord Evelyn Oakleigh) for “The Gypsy In Me” is wonderfully zany.
Yuskauskas is hilarious as the Lord who lords it over everyone and puts the “unc” in unctuous.
Other comedic standouts in the show include Zoe Miner (Evangeline Harcourt), Jim VanValen (Elisha Whitney) and Frank Ruscitti (The Rev. Henry T. Dobson).
Bringing a graceful dignity to her role in song is Laura Frye (Hope Harcourt), who excels in her spotlight number, “Goodbye, Little Dream, Goodbye”; “It’s De-Lovely,” her duet with Kenny, and “All Through The Night,” her duet with Kenny and the Sailor Quartet.
Erica Morreale (Erma) is delightful in “Buddie, Beware” with the Sailor Quartet.
The musical, “Anything Goes,” is from a time on Broadway when men were men and women were dolls.
Not to be overly politically-correct, but the disparity creates squirm-inducing moments during the show’s dialogue (“Not one lousy grope.”) in this post #metoo movement era.
It’s a conundrum.
One cannot change the book by P.G. Wodehouse, Guy Bolton, Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse from the original 1934 production, even though a “new book” is credited to Timothy Crouse and John Weidman for the 1987 Lincoln Center production on which the MSMT production is based.
MSMT co-founder Charles Richter directs “Anything Goes” with a respect for the text, while wisely emphasizing the music and lyrics by Cole Porter, which is really why you want to see the show anyway
Certainly, as a not-so-closeted gay man, Cole Porter understood the contradictions of social norms. In “Anything Goes,” Porter’s songs soar high above the musical’s rather mundane plot, which served as a template for many musicals, including “Guys & Dolls” (1950).
“Anything Goes” is not only of historic interest. The musical is still beautifully and brilliantly entertaining.
Tickets: Muhlenberg College Department of Theatre and Dance box office, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday, Trexler Pavilion for Theatre and Dance, Muhlenberg College, 2400 W. Chew St., Allentown; muhlenberg.edu/theatre/SMT; 484-664-3333