It is no secret that when the Class Act Productions company puts on a show, they pull out all the stops. As Director/Founder/Producer Keith Brumfield comments in his opening remarks for the printed program of the group’s latest show:
“Professional costumes, extravagant sets, authentic props, a live professional orchestra…these elements – along with some of the most fantastic young performers in our area – are what set Class Act apart from other youth theatre groups.”
That statement from the director of the current production of Cole Porter’s Anything Goes might appear self-serving were it not so absolutely true. And how appropriate to apply the phrase “anything goes” to a group now well into its second decade of sparing no expense to produce first class musicals. This current effort was no exception to that rule.
With its new book by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman, the often silly and lightweight plot is beautifully sustained by Porter’s lovely music and lyrics, while the show has gone through several revival incarnations since the original libretto of 1934, with its book by Guy Bolton, P.G. Woodhouse, Howard Lindsay, and Russel Crouse. The action takes place aboard a transatlantic cruise ship sailing from New York to London. Beautiful Hope Harcourt (Aubrey Reece) is sailing with her somewhat eccentric fiancé, Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (George Downham). But eager young broker, Billy Crocker (Thomas Miller), has sneaked aboard.
He is determined that Hope is really the girl for him, but worries his vacationing Wall Street boss, Elisha Whitney (Collin Carter), may discover him on the ship. Carter, by the way, shows a nice flair for slapstick when he performs the zany “Crew Song.” Adding to the resulting plot mayhem is the presence on board of an old friend of Billy’s. She is sassy and flashy nightclub singer, Reno Sweeney (Rachel Broussard at the performance I attended, rotating in the role with Katelyn Mattingly). The shipboard chaos that follows makes for a merry ocean voyage.
Musical Director, Rae Moses and his orchestra get things off to a snappy start with an Overture touching on such tunes as “All Through The Night,” “You’re the Top,” and of course, the title tune. We hear the ship’s call for “All Aboard,” and it quickly put me in the mood for our family’s scheduled Southern Caribbean cruise next November, which, regrettably, will cause me to miss Class Act’s fall production of The Little Mermaid. But enough about me, let’s move on to the many musical highlights of this great production.
In a shimmering burgundy gown, Broussard opened with an, “I Get A Kick Out of You,” that was as bubbly as champagne. Reno still has eyes for Billy and scolds him for his past inattentions with, “You never laid a hand on me, and I’m not used to men treating me like that!” The action moves to the dramatic full-scale set of the three-tiered ocean liner (set designer, Jonathan Shelledy), and the passengers and Captain (Brad Brickhouse) gather for their lively opening number with, “There’s No Cure Like Travel.”
That was followed by the sensational ensemble number, “Bon Voyage,” featuring a great quartet of sailors (Jesse Bates, Deion Galindo, Auston Henderson and Jack Wheeler), and the very talented youngsters known as The Broadway Kids. Boy can they dance, and the full cast choreography here is simply stunning. (Choreographer, Tony Smith).
Under a starry sky that night (lighting by Blake Minor) Reno launches into a vibrant, “You’re the Top,” in duet with Billy.
It is a lovely tune that is sadly diminished here by too rapid a tempo and endless physical antics that seemed to require some quirky movement or facial expression for every syllable in the song. In the view of this critic such excessive “business” only diminishes the impact of Porter’s marvelous music, while at the same time compromising the intended intimacy between characters. Much more satisfying was the pleasant, “Easy to Love,” that followed from Billy and Hope.
Reno belts out “Take Me Back to Manhattan,” while the Broadway Kids, dressed in adorable sailor suits, dance up a storm.
Meanwhile, the handsome sailor quartet has another winner with a sweet number titled, “There Will Always Be A Lady Fair.” We meet Moonface Martin (Daniel Miller), a two-bit mobster posing as a minister, and his floozy girlfriend, Erma (played with great comic skill by Christine Saenz).
Moonface joins Reno in an overly hyper duet of the cute song, “Friendship,” and he should not be confused with the real minister on board, the Rev. Henry T. Dobson, played nicely here by deep-voiced Drew Gerlach. There was a charming duet of, “It’s De-Lovely,” from Billy and Hope that featured a terrific variety of dance steps (especially that tango) and closed with soft musical phrasing that made it a real winner. Act One ended with a tap dance explosion for the dazzling showstopper, “Anything Goes.” It was an astounding display of skill from these young performers.
Excitement continued in Act Two with blood-red lighting on those Broadway Kids dressed in crimson frocks and hair ribbons while dancing a jazzy “Heaven Hop” in the ship’s ballroom full of passengers dressed in gorgeous formal attire (costume designer, Caroline Zirilli). There is a rousing cast chorale of “Public Enemy #1” when it is believed that Billy is a celebrated gangster worthy of praise. Reno and her quintet of back-up “Angels” are radiant in fabulous glitzy red gowns as they knock out another explosive song and dance number with a sensational, “Blow, Gabriel, Blow.”
Broussard was a powerhouse leading that charge. Miss Reece was all-aglow in a glamorous silver-gray gown as she sang a tender, “Goodbye, Little Dream, Goodbye.” Moonface delivers a mellow and amusing, “Be Like the Bluebird,” while Miss Saenz establishes Erma as a hilarious “dumb brunette” that could rival any “dumb blonde.”
Mr. Miller gets it elegantly right as he shows how a Porter song should really be sung with a smooth and satisfying, “All Through the Night,” that has Hope and the sailors joining in for one of the show’s best numbers that is blissfully free of extraneous shenanigans.
Then the comically clever ham, Mr. Downham, brings hilarious body language to Lord Evelyn’s riotous performance of “The Gypsy in Me,” as he and Reno dance with exotic Spanish flair. A beaming Miss Saenz followed with her moment in the sun for the adorable, “Buddie, Beware.” This gal has naturalness on stage that should make her one to watch for in future productions.
I won’t spoil the silly contrived ending by telling you who ends up with whom, but I will say that readers would be ill advised to miss the joyous finale of, “I Get A Kick Out Of You.” There it was again, as so many times in years past: Another Class Act finale that just makes you glad to be alive!
ANYTHING GOES concludes its run with a 2:30 matinee Sunday July 22, 2012 at the Woodlands College Park High School. For tickets and information call 281-292-6779 or visit the website at www.classactproductions.org .