By Kay Kipling
If the production of Anything Goes currently onstage at the Manatee Players Riverfront Theatre seems a little different from the way you remember it, don’t worry. This Cole Porter musical has undergone a number of changes since it first bowed in 1934—a shifting around of songs and relationships, a rewriting of some aspects of the original book (which was by P.G. Wodehouse, Guy Bolton, Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse) to make developments more plausible—or at least more acceptable—for modern audiences. In other words, a nip and tuck here and there for a dowager of American musicals.
The original dates from a period when great songs, scantily clad chorus girls, some comic relief and a happy ending were about all audiences expected from a show; never mind so much about the plot. Even in the 1987 revival of the musical (with a new book by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman), which is the version the Manatee Players employs, some of the gags fall flat and not all the romantic pairings may convince.
But Anything Goes is at its best when everyone is singing and dancing, and director/choreographer Rick Kerby has staged the show to make the most of its fun and even silly moments. The evening opens with nightclub evangelist Reno Sweeney (Andrea Wright) and our hero, Billy Crocker (Omar Montes), sharing a drink in New York City; she’s been thinking of him in a romantic way, but Billy only has eyes for socialite Hope Harcourt (Melanie Marie Bierweiler), who in turn is engaged to a British lord (Brian Chunn) in order to replace family fortunes lost in the crash of ’29. The action doesn’t really get going, though, until everyone boards a London-bound ship (a pleasing design by Marc Lalosh that includes lots of portholed doors in the set’s centerpiece, along with video projections that take us to sea), with the number Bon Voyage.
Follow that up with some Porter classics including You’re the Top, Easy to Love, Friendship, the title tune, and Act II’s Blow, Gabriel, Blow (featuring nice trumpet work by Victor Mongillo, under the musical direction of Aaron Cassette), and you will probably make up your mind not to care about any plot deficiencies.
Kerby has been blessed with a cast that can deliver those tunes, from rousing to wistful in style. Wright seems perfectly at ease both in her big dance numbers and her duets with Chunn and Montes, and she wears a succession of slinky and nautical costumes (uncredited in the program) with panache. Montes is a likeably brash Billy and a decent song-and-dance man (he struggles a little with some notes on Easy to Love, but that may have been an opening-night aberration). Bierweiler is attractive and sings prettily on her tunes, which is about all Hope is asked to do. And Chunn, along with Michael DeMocko as not-very-scary public enemy Moonface Martin and Brittney Klepper as a moll irresistible to the ship’s crew, plays his comic bits to the hilt.
It’s not always smooth sailing here, but in the end the voyage is worthwhile. Anything Goes continues through Feb. 3; for tickets (which are scarce), call 748-5875 or go to manateeplayers.com.