If you're not familiar with this classic musical, which has aged moderately well in 80+ years with several book revisions, the basic premise is one of celebrities, rich people, and gangsters all trapped together on a ship from New York City to London. Showgirl Reno Sweeney is in love with good-natured Wall Street man Billy Crocker, who is in love with debutante Hope Harcourt, who is engaged to Lord Evelyn Oakleigh. Billy stows away on the ship to try to prevent Hope from marrying Evelyn, and a couple of gangsters are also on board trying to hide from sight. When Billy is mistaken for "Public Enemy Number One," he's treated like royalty, which is fun for him, but Hope is not impressed. Billy confesses and is immediately put behind bars along with the gangsters. But this is a musical, so they escape and everyone gets married, which obviously means a happy ending for all.
|Reno Sweeney (Jaclyn Juola) gets a lift from the sailors|
(Armando Ronconi, James Ehlenz, Alex Johnson, Josh Palmquist)
The two best features of this musical are the score (featuring songs that have since become classics in the American songbook, e.g., "I Get a Kick Out of You," "You're the Top," and "It's De-Lovely") and the dancing. The former is well-played by Mary Cay Stone's orchestra and sounds great (despite the orchestra being piped in from a room upstairs due to backstage space constraints). The latter, while perhaps less elaborate than the recent Broadway revival and tour, is entirely satisfying. The iconic tap dance to the title song is a thrill, and choreographer Lauri Kraft keeps the movement going even through scene changes. In the post-show discussion, she said that the scene changes were inspired by the recent Broadway tour of An American in Paris, and that influence shows. Actors in costume move the scenery between scenes, and often do a little dance or character bit while doing so.
I was happy to hear at the talkback that the director and cast thoroughly discussed the implications of the "dated racial portrayals" in the show, namely how the two Chinese characters are depicted and how the white characters impersonate them. They did what they could to minimize the offensiveness, while acknowledging that this is a product of its time, and encouraging the audience to laugh at the stupidity of Moonface and Billy rather than the stereotypes. I appreciate their attention to this issue; often old scripts have offensive material that needs to be rethought for today's world. More diversity in the large cast would have made this point even more and resulted in a more modern and representative production.
Anything Goes continues through August 6 at Lyric Arts Main Street Stage in downtown Anoka.