I’ve loved Broadway musicals since I was smaller than a piano bench. That’s one reason I enjoy writing about local productions in this space. The more people who go to musicals, the happier it makes me.
I didn’t realize how old-fashioned about musicals I could be, though, until my wife Elyse and I at long last saw “Wicked.” It only took us 15 years to get there. Last week (on July 12), it became the sixth-longest-running show in Broadway history, surpassing “A Chorus Line.”
Here’s the kicker: We were underwhelmed by the overwhelming spectacle that is “Wicked.” It struck us as more of a gimmicky, dizzying theme park ride than a clear-eyed musical theater experience. As the show biz joke goes, I was more tempted to walk out of there humming the scenery than the songs.
It did my gray-hair taste good, then, to see a decidedly simpler, more straightforward style of musical at Westchester Broadway Theater in Elmsford: “Anything Goes.” The good news is you have the rest of the summer to catch this light-hearted Cole Porter classic, which runs through Sept. 9. If you’re old-fashioned like me, you’ll get a kick out of it. (Ticket information at 914-592-2222; BroadwayTheatre.com).
The cute plot, set aboard an ocean liner headed to New York from England, mixes and matches several couples, with cases of mistaken identity and games of romantic chess. Young stockbroker Billy Crocker (Zach Trimmer) hopes to catch the eye of debutante Hope Harcourt (Jackie Raye), who is engaged to wealthy Englishman Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Kevin Pariseau), while nightclub singer Reno Sweeney (Stacia Fernandez) has her own hopes up for hooking up with Billy… and so on. “I’m in love,” Billy tells Reno, who replies, “I’m in cabin 13.”
The story, with a pedigree by way of legendary humorist P.G. Wodehouse, is clever and serviceable enough. It’s also mostly beside the point, as plots usually were in big musicals before Rodgers & Hammerstein teamed up for Oklahoma.
In “Anything Goes,” the Cole Porter songs are the stars and the coolly kinetic tap-dancing is the exuberant heartbeat. Both are well-served under the direction and choreography of Richard Stafford. As captain of the show, he navigates a smooth, steady course that keeps action and production numbers sailing along briskly and seamlessly.
Kudos go also to musical director Patrick Hoagland for spirited and infectious arrangements of standards like “You’re the Top,” “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “Friendship,” and the title song, all of which set feet a-tappin’ not only on stage, but in the audience too.
Adding greatly to the show’s colorful, upbeat glamour are the set design by Steve Loftus, lighting by Andrew Gmoser, and imaginative nautical and period costumes by Keith Nielsen. The ship is effectively and efficiently depicted with an upper deck and a towering trio of luminescent smokestacks.
Movable set pieces are maneuvered on and off the three-sided proscenium stage with the audience hardly noticing. The brief scene changes upstage are nicely covered by ensemble couples performing ballroom dance movements downstage. It’s a nice touch that keeps the audience in the moment.
As Reno Sweeney, Stacia Fernandez is given a rainbow of glittery costumes to wear, highlighted with a sequin number that shines as brightly as her powerful belter voice in the famous showpiece, “Blow, Gabriel Blow.” Her singing throughout is a delight. The same goes for the impressive vocal chops of male lead Zach Trimmer (Billy), who shows impressive range into the high registers; and the beautifully lyrical singing of Jackie Raye (Hope) and Mychal Phillips (Erma).
There also are standout performances from Kevin Pariseau (Lord Evelyn), who has a lot of fun, as does the audience, turning “The Gypsy in Me” into a very funny novelty number; Jon Peterson (Moonface Martin), whose voice reminded me of a cross between comedian Gilbert Gottfried and Nathan Lane’s Timon in “The Lion King”; Bob Walton, sporting a gravity-defying Einstein hairdo as a proud, near-sighted Yalie (Elisha Whitney); and suitably haughty Tina Johnson as a high-society dowager (Mrs. Harcourt).
Westchester Broadway Theatre (WBT) offers single-price tickets that include a full-course dinner and show, as well as show tickets that don’t include dinner.
Following “Anything Goes” at WBT, starting Sept. 13, is Yeston and Kopit’s “Phantom,” which the theater says has been its most popular show over the years. (It is not the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.)
Bruce “The Blog” Apar promotes local businesses, organizations, events and people through public relations agency APAR PR. He also is an actor, a community volunteer, and a contributor to several periodicals. Follow him as Bruce The Blog on social media. Reach him at email@example.com or 914-275-6887.