Thursday, April 16, 2015

A De-lovely, If Not Quite Deliriously So, 'Anything Goes' -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Anything Goes
Marriott Theatre, Lincolnshire, IL
Thru May 31

There is much to like about Anything Goes--including some of Cole Porter's greatest songs, a good bit of good (if often hokey) humor and some terrific tap dancing--and my suspicion that the show would go over well at Marriott Theatre was confirmed by a standing ovation bestowed on opening night.

The self-producing Lincolnshire venue is said to boast the largest subscription base in the country, seemingly largely comprised--based on visual evidence--of seniors.

Though never a subscriber, I've enjoyed many shows there over the years, including regional premieres of recent Broadway hits and even world premiere productions the theater has commissioned and developed.

Enthusiastic audiences have largely seemed receptive to most anything, especially given the quality of the unique in-the-round productions, but spirited renditions of brand-name musicals of yore--Guys & Dolls, 42nd Street, South Pacific, The King and I, etc., etc., etc.--still seems to be the theater's bread-and-butter.

Porter's oft-revived and revised 1934 hit--featuring such fantastic songs as "I Get a Kick Out of You," "You're the Top," "It's De-lovely," "Blow Gabriel, Blow" and the title tune--fits well into that vein, and a fine local cast delivers it enjoyably.

The progressively more farcical storyline taking place upon a cruise ship intertwines a number of significant characters, giving several performers substantive opportunity to shine.

A lounge singer named Reno Sweeney (nicely played here by Stephanie Binetti) is ostensibly Anything Goes' main character but, a bit oddly, not the emotional center nor comedic linchpin.

In this version, derived from a 1987 Broadway Revival, Reno is joined on board by a gangster in hiding
named Moonface Martin (Ross Lehman), his sassy gal pal Erma (Alexandra Palkovic), a Wall Street tycoon (Gene Weygandt) and his assistant Billy Crocker (Jameson Cooper), who is wooing Hope Harcourt (Summer Naomi Smart), despite her traveling with both her British fiancé (Patrick Lane) and her mother (Mary Ernster). John Reeger plays the ship's captain.  

Having seen these actors and actresses more than 30 times combined, I hold their talents and efforts in high regard, and under the direction of Marc Robin--who also choreographed this production--nobody is less than very good here, with many far beyond that.

Though I imagine even they would admit to over-hamming it up at times--probably as directed--old hands Lehman and Weygandt generate the bulk of laughs, while Lane also gets his share as Lord Evelyn Oakleigh.

Cooper is well-sung as Billy, though he and Lane are too similar in appearance as competing love interests for Hope, buoyantly played by the always incandescent Smart. While Binetti brings suitable panache as Reno--and is joyously at the center of the show-stopping tapstravaganza of "Anything Goes" that ends Act I--Palkovic is especially fun as the overtly sexy Erma.

Marriott subscribers and other frequent patrons, especially those who have never seen Anything Goes, or at least not since goodness knows, should have a frequent smile on their face and leave tapping their toes.

Yet while I enjoyed it, I couldn't help but find this rendition considerably lesser than the Tony-winning Broadway revival I saw in New York in 2011, and the national tour based on it, which came through Chicago in 2013.

Certainly, the folks at Marriott can't much be blamed for not quite matching more grandiose productions, especially as--in this case as well--they've often quite well-compensated for their scenery-limiting stage set-up with rather inventive staging, blocking and choreography.

And I realize that not only are Broadway luminaries--such as Sutton Foster, Joel Grey, John McMartin, Kelly Bishop and Laura Osnes, who I saw on Broadway (and the latter just the other day in Carousel at the Lyric Opera), or even Rachel York, who headed the touring edition--likely not readily available to hit the boards in Lincolnshire, I predominantly enjoy seeing local shows filled from Chicagoland's own vast galaxy of great musical theater talent.

That said, and with no disrespect meant to anyone in particular, this classic show at the Marriott Lincolnshire resort feels like one where some overt star power would help.

Especially as a running joke in the show is about how there are no celebrities aboard the ship.

In watching it, I couldn't help but recall how--via the Chicago Tribune's online archives--I've noted that through the late '70s at this very venue, but also many other area theaters, most substantially-promoted shows featured a well-known star (or at least a once well-known star).

I won't suggest any names, or even the roles they may have played, but while the production values of Marriott shows are often enough to stand aloft, this was a case where a famous face (and persona) or two might have elevated--for me, at least--a stellar suburban production of an enjoyable but not quite incredible musical into something a bit more special.

But then who knows?

Anything Goes.

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