'Anything Goes' really, really well for Ann Arbor Civic Theatre
Such unabashed joy (with a wink toward the audience) generally pervades director Andy Ballnik’s two and a half hour production of the classic musical, and, well, it’s contagious.
With an unabashedly goofball plot that’s built around several lush, playful Cole Porter songs, “Anything Goes” - original book by P.G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton, and Howard Kindsay and Russell Crouse, and new book by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman - takes place on an ocean liner, where a young Wall Street broker named Billy Crocker (Patrick Ballnik) pursues love with an heiress (Meredith Deighton), even though she’s engaged, for pragmatic reasons, to stuffy Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Michael Joseph).
Oakleigh, meanwhile, harbors a crush on nightclub singer Reno Sweeney (Sarah Brown), who’s long wanted to be more than friends with Billy. Plus, in the midst of these love plots, a low rent gangster named Moonface Martin (Dan Clair) has stowed away on the boat with another crook’s moll, Erma (Tanner), and disguises himself as a minister to evade capture.
Some minor opening night hiccups plagued Thursday evening’s performance - a couple of botched lighting cues, a musically rough intro to “Easy to Love” - and while the first act offered some highlights (most notably the sublimely tap-tastic title number), the production didn’t really hit its stride until the second act, when several solo numbers gave the uniformly terrific lead performers a chance to shine.
Clair is absolutely marvelous, for instance, as a gangster with an inferiority complex, and he combines vocal aptitude with comedy perfectly in “Be Like the Bluebird.” Tanner’s command of the stage (and her saucy character) make her a magnetic presence, and she has a delicious time with “Buddie, Beware.” Deighton can’t have quite as much fun, since she’s playing a duty-bound heiress, but her gorgeous, evocative take on “Goodbye, Little Dream, Goodbye” and “All Through the Night” - hands-down, the most beautifully staged ballad of Ballnik’s show - provide the show with its emotional, ahem, anchor.
Joseph, meanwhile, totally knocked me (and the opening night crowd) out with his hysterical, deft delivery of “The Gypsy in Me,” which nearly brought down the house and established him as an audience favorite. Patrick Ballnik, with his strong vocals and rakish charm, seemed built for his leading man role. And finally, Brown carried the show, as Reno ultimately must, with impressive skill and charisma.
Yes, there’s a bit of clunkiness early on in the production, when the set must shift from a Manhattan bar to an ocean liner (and “There’s No Cure Like Travel” gets lost), and the orchestra's brass section hit a few speed bumps throughout opening night. But Susan Filipiak’s expertly choreographed title number, which strategically places the show’s strongest tap dancers in front, is worth the price of the ticket itself. For nothing gets the blood pumping quite like a great tap number, and this show’s got one, and how.
Emily Perryman masterfully choreographed the rest of the show, while music director Brian Rose’s fine work with the performers is on display in nearly every number. Andy and Patrick Ballnik designed the set; Nathaniel Madura designed the show’s lighting; Andy Ballnik and Sarah Erlewine designed the colorful, ‘30s era-suggestive costumes; and Matthew Steward designed the show’s sound.
But the sound that can’t be beat, of course, is Porter’s music, which still gets toes tapping - in tap shoes, no less - after all these years. And thank goodness for that.
"Anything Goes" continues through Sunday. For information, see the A2CT website. Jenn McKee is the entertainment digital journalist for AnnArbor.com. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-623-2546, and follow her on Twitter @jennmckee.