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In the interlude of "It's De-Lovely," one of the many musical gems in Cole Porter's Anything Goes, the sweet-voiced heiress Hope Harcourt sings to her would-be lover Billy Crocker, "This verse I've started seems to me, the Tin Pantithesis of melody." It is that phrase, "Tin Pantithesis of melody," that best sums up Porter's genius – not just the witty play on words, merging antithesis with Tin Pan Alley, but the sly acknowledgement that his melodies were so often the antithesis of typical Tin Pan Alley: complex, chromatic, difficult to sing. (Here's a test: sing one full chorus of "De-Lovely" unaccompanied, and if you can end up in the same key you started, you’re the top.)
Cole Porter's songs, chock-full of clever rhymes and tricky tunes, are a challenge, so kudos goes to the cast of CPCC Summer Theatre's production of Anything Goes. Clear diction, fine singing, and, for the most part, fairly bug-free amplification made for a solid presentation of some of Porter's best-known ditties: "It's De-Lovely," "You're the Top," "I Get a Kick Out of You," and, of course, the title song, "Anything Goes."
Anything Goes premiered on Broadway in 1934 and it is a perfect example of a 30s musical, with vamps, triggermen, and some swell tap dancing. Robert Croghan's excellent costumes captured the glamour and lightheartedness with which Broadway and Hollywood countered the Great Depression. With Croghan's cleverly designed massive white cruise ship as their setting, the characters were always a feast for the eyes, especially the four Angels, who start the show in smart white suits with striped hats and scarves and open Act II with stunning gold evening gowns.
The 1934 production was primarily a vehicle for Ethel Merman as Reno Sweeney, a onetime evangelist turned nightclub starlet. Reno has most of the great numbers, and Ashtyn Hutchins delivered the role well. She is lovely – much prettier than Merman was – and has a strong voice with excellent diction. We heard every one of those Porter jewels (my favorite: "You're the Nile, you're the Tower of Pisa; you're the smile on the Mona Lisa."). Likewise, the other leads – Mathew Blake Johnson as Billy Crocker, Kylee Verhoff as Hope Harcourt – and secondary characters gave sturdy performances. Ashton Guthrie as the stuffy Englishman and Jacob Estes and Kelly Kohlman as the gangster Moonface Martin and his gun moll, Bonnie, drew frequent laughs from the audience.
What was often missing on this opening night performance, though, was verve – a go-for-broke, uninhibited delight in the text, tunes, and tap steps the performers have learned so well. They came close in the second act, with "Let's Step Out," and even closer in "Blow, Gabriel, Blow." As they continue the run, let's hope they hear that horn and truly abandon themselves to the Spirit.
Anything Goes continues through Saturday, June 27. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.