Review: Take a Joyful, Shenanigan-filled Trip with 'Anything Goes'

The wonderfully stylish, effervescent romp “Anything Goes” is light-hearted fare to say the least, and exactly the kind of summer musical experience one hopes for from The Barn Theatre in Director Patrick Hunter’s capable hands. 

With big, glittering dance numbers driven by infectious classic Cole Porter tunes and a playful rom-com plot, the show originally produced in 1934 to lift its audience out of depression spurred by The Depression has the same effect today. Perfectly uplifting, it’s simply a joy to behold.

With original book by Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse, revised and revived many times, this version of “Anything Goes” was adapted from the 1987 Broadway revival originally produced by Lincoln Center Theatre. It’s a story reminiscent of musical films from the 1930s, with a plot far less important than its musical numbers.

There are no small characters on the S.S. American, and they’re all up to shenanigans of one variety or another on a transatlantic voyage; hence, anything goes, and why this show is so amusing to watch. 

First and foremost is Reno Sweeney (Melissa Cotton Hunter), the sexy evangelist turned nightclub singer; the leading light into and out of the grandest of musical numbers. She’s fallen for Billy Crocker (Aaron Czarnecki), a stowaway who pretends to be a sailor, then a gangster, in order to woo debutante Hope Harcourt (Melina Walko), whose overbearing mother Evangeline Harcourt (Penelope Alex), has greedily betrothed her to wealthy Brit Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Michael Richards), who’s enamored with the kooky Americanisms he writes down in a little notebook only to transform them into silly malapropisms in conversation.

The Captain (Charlie King) is seeking celebrities to parade in front of his star-struck passengers and discovers gangster Moonface Martin (John Jay Espino), Public Enemy Number 13, who’s been masquerading as a priest to avoid arrest, fits the bill nicely. Martin’s man-eating moll Erma (Sofia Macaluso) struts her stuff to entice the sailor boys and near-sighted Wall Street tycoon Elisha Whitney (Steven Lee Burright), despite his Yale education and trusty sidekick pup, manages to tumble into romantic folly.

But all of that is really just the delightful fun that strings together dazzling musical numbers. With inspired choreography from Melissa Cotton Hunter that draws from the era (notably Fred Astaire and Busby Berkeley) everything from balletic pas de deux (“It’s De-Lovely”) to spicy tango (“The Gypsy in Me”) to spectacular, sparkly ensemble numbers with athletic tap and sexy swagger (“Blow, Gabriel, Blow”) to the little ditties we all know and love sprung to life anew (“I Get a Kick Out of You”, “You’re the Top”, “Anything Goes”) are terrific.

The singing, too, is stellar. With music direction from Matt Shabala who leads an excellent six-piece band (with horns!), this classic score sounds marvelous.

And no one leaves a more lasting impression than Melissa Cotton Hunter as Reno, a role she was obviously born to play. Originated by Ethel Merman, with the likes of Patti LuPone and Sutton Foster reprising the role, Reno has big shoes to fill and Hunter stands tall in them, hoofing and twirling and gliding through these Olympian numbers with grace and charm.

With perfectly sumptuous costumes by Karsen Green, a gloriously nautical set by Patrick Hunter and Brett Barradell, and lights that draw the eye exactly where it needs to go by Tracy V. Joe, technically this show beautifully summons the period and brings us into an attractive, joyful time and place past.

It hardly matters that a character or two come off as more manufactured than real, a glaring cartoon in an otherwise stylish period piece, or that inconsistencies with projections occur, leaving gorgeous mood-setting skies to come and go. 

Overall, it’s a fantastic musical, perfect summer fare that does what a classic musical should: you walk out of the theatre feeling a little lighter, with a smile in your heart and a song in your head.

Anything Goes
Barn Theatre
13351 M-96, Augusta
July 5-16