Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Anything Goes
Arena Stage
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's review of Elf the Musical


Soara-Joye Ross and Corbin Bleu
Photo by Maria Baranova
In a time of stress and disagreement, well-done escapism is a precious commodity, and director Molly Smith's lovely production of Anything Goes in the Fichandler Stage at Washington's Arena Stage is just what audiences need right now. The talented cast and especially Parker Esse's choreography glitter in a world of Cole Porter songs and the inspired silliness of the book by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman.

When Anything Goes premiered in 1934 with Ethel Merman in the lead, it had a book written by P.G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton and adapted by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse. Timothy Crouse (son of Russel) and Weidman reworked the book for a 1987 Broadway production that starred Patti LuPone and, for this production, they have further integrated two minor characters necessary to the plot but originally written as insulting ethnic stereotypes.

In the aftermath of the 1929 stock market crash, Porter and his co-authors just wanted to entertain, sneaking in some commentary about rich people, poor people, and a society that turns violent criminals into heroes. Mostly it's about hijinks on board an ocean liner traveling from New York to London, centering on Reno Sweeney (Soara-Joye Ross, a knockout singer and dancer), evangelist and New York nightclub owner.

Reno has a crush on stockbroker Billy Crocker (Corbin Bleu, a dynamic dancer who also excels in singing and acting), but he's searching for debutante Hope Harcourt (Lisa Helmi Johanson), with whom he spent one unforgettable evening. When he discovers that Hope is engaged to Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Jimmy Ray Bennett) and that they are sailing together to England on the same ship as Reno—incidentally, Billy's boss, pompous and frequently inebriated Elisha Whitney (Thomas Adrian Simpson), is on board too—he stows away. A fortuitous meeting with Moonface Martin (Stephen DeRosa), "Public Enemy #13," leads to even more complications.

Where to begin? With the nine musicians including conductor William Yanesh at the keyboard, tearing into the overture with joy and amusing novelty sounds? With Esse's choreography that at times includes kaleidoscopic groupings of dancers, the smart unison of a small group of sailors, and a lot of effervescent tap? With Alejo Vietti's breathtaking costumes, beginning with a rear-pleated, draped, sparkling black evening dress for Reno's first scene? With Ken MacDonald's economical scenic design, which conjures up so much from a few railings, pieces of furniture, and a movable central platform?

The cast has no weak links, from Ross' rowdy elegance and Bleu's charm while burning up the stage to Johanson's poise, DeRosa's goofy charm, Bennett's unflappability, Simpson's zany side, and Lisa Tejero's operatic moods as Hope's mother.

Arena Stage
Anything Goes
November 2nd - December 23rd, 2018
Music and lyrics by Cole Porter
Original book by P.G. Wodehouse & Guy Bolton and Howard Lindsay & Russel Crouse
New book by Timothy Crouse & John Weidman
Lord Evelyn Oakleigh: Jimmy Ray Bennett
Billy Crocker: Corbin Bleu
John/Ensemble: Julio Catano-Yee
Moonface Martin: Stephen DeRosa
Purser/Ensemble/Lady Fair Quartet: Ben Gunderson
Captain/Ensemble: Jonathan Holmes
Hope Harcourt: Lisa Helmi Johanson
Ensemble/Lady Fair Quartet/Fred/Photographer: Brent McBeth
Ensemble/Lady Fair Quartet/Reporter: Mickey Orange
Ensemble/Virtue/Dance Captain: Lizz Picini
Ensemble/Chastity: Kristyn Pope
Erma/Ensemble: Maria Rizzo
Reno Sweeney: Soara-Joye Ross
Luke/Ensemble: Christopher Shin
Elisha Whitney: Thomas Adrian Simpson
Evangeline Harcourt: Lisa Tejero
Ensemble/Purity: DeMoya Watson Brown
Ensemble/Charity: Andrea Weinzierl
Ensemble/Lady Fair Quartet/Minister: Nicholas Yenson
Cheeky: Maximillian Moonshine or Olly
Swings: Allie O'Donnell, Brett Uram
Directed by Molly Smith
Choreography by Parker Esse
Music direction by Paul Sportelli
Fichandler Stage, Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, 1101 Sixth St. SW
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-488-3300 or www.arenastage.org


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