Cole Porter Rides Again
Making great old songs fresh again is one of the best contributions of contemporary musical theater. The Boulder Dinner Theatre's production of Cole Porter's Anything Goes reminds us why, more than sixty years after their composition, songs such as "I Get a Kick Out of You," "It's De-lovely," "You're the Top," "Anything Goes" and the full-throated, gospel-flavored "Blow, Gabriel, Blow" still set us humming. And it also provides the less-familiar pleasures of the parodic "Be Like the Bluebird"; an excruciatingly silly sailors' number called "There'll Always Be a Lady Fair"; "Public Enemy Number One," a take-off on Gilbert and Sullivan; and the wistful "Goodbye, Little Dream, Goodbye" -- all of which show how inventive, melodious and smoothly funny Porter could be, even during his less inspired moments.
Anything Goes is all surface -- stylish, funny and lighthearted. Following his beloved, a debutante who's about to marry another, Billy Crocker sneaks onto a cruise ship leaving for London from New York. A chanteuse who happens to be in love with Billy follows. Others on the ship include the debutante's upper-class English fiancé (whose misguided attempts at American slang provide some of the show's funnier moments), along with her gold-digging, title-worshiping mother, a couple of preachers -- one real, the other a crook in disguise -- and sundry sailors, con artists and sashaying chorus girls.
Apparently, the original producer intended Anything Goes to feature a shipwreck, but he was overtaken by events: Just before rehearsals began, a real ship went down, and over a hundred passengers died. The book and scenario were hurriedly reworked by the original writers -- a group that included P.G. Wodehouse -- and the show opened in 1934. The title, at least according to one theater historian, reflects the freneticism of the process. The Boulder Dinner Theatre uses a newer script, by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman, but it's easy to imagine the book being put together in the same improvisational and heated way. One absurd event follows another, characters race on and off, the musical numbers sometimes connect to the action and sometimes contribute nothing but a bit of joyous fizz. When, near the end, one of the main characters suddenly realizes he's broke, we know there'll be a reversal. Sure enough, within minutes someone has burst onto the stage to inform him that the market's swerved and he's a zillionaire. This is more knowing than dumb: It feels as if the writers are winking at us.
The Boulder Dinner Theatre troupe mainly does Anything Goes proud, providing an infectiously cheery, toe-tapping evening with moments of such high-hearted and endearing silliness that you find yourself sputtering with laughter. Everything in the production fits, from the flat colors and stylized lines of Melissa Schrank's shipboard set, with its farcically swinging doors, to the thirteen-member orchestra placed above the action as if it were playing on the deck, to the bright, imaginative costumes of Laurie LaMere Klapperich. The purple bridesmaids' outfits of the last act, as well as the big, round, fleecy-edged hats that seem always to be turning in unison, are almost worth the price of admission on their own.
As for the performances, this is not a company that leans toward feeling or subtlety. Granted, Anything Goes doesn't call for much of either. But there are a few times when you feel you're being rushed from song to song and gag to gag -- and it might be nice to sense even the smallest sexual frisson between the lovers. Still, on its own terms, the cast is in fine fettle. Alicia King Dunfee brings tremendous presence and an equally tremendous voice to the role of Reno Sweeny (which was originally played by Ethel Merman). Dunfee is both powerful and expressive. She can belt, but she can also coo, caress and harmonize. Joanie Brosseau-Beyette is perky as the debutante, and her voice is lovely. Her renditions of "Goodbye, Little Dream, Goodbye" and "All Through the Night" are two of the evening's high points.
As Billy, Scott Beyette is charming, though he can't match his two leading ladies in vocal quality. How much to ham and mug must be a hard call in a production as humorous as this one, and Brian Norber's performance as businessman Elisha Whitney tends to go over the edge. Still, he's a talented comedian, and his evocation of the Yale bulldog had us howling. A.K. Klimpe plays Moonface Martin, who longs to rise to the top of the FBI's Most Wanted list but is stuck at number thirteen. He, too, is very funny, particularly in the mock inspirational "Be Like the Bluebird," pressing his face to prison bars and letting a melancholy "tweet" escape his lips. Wayne Kennedy has impeccable comic timing as the ship's captain, and D.P. Perkins balances precariously between gravitas and lunacy as Lord Evelyn Oakleigh.
The choreography, by a clearly very busy Alicia King Dunfee, is fun and energetic; so is her husband Neal Dunfee's piano playing and musical direction. Someone should check the sound levels, however. They're unbalanced. The orchestra often seems about to overpower the vocalists, and Dunfee's already powerful voice is so strongly miked that it tends to drown out anyone who sings with her.
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