Grab your life jackets, your party boat dress, and climb aboard the S.S. American for a rollicking good time at sea as the Cole Porter classic Anything Goes drifts into the harbor at Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre. Directed by Jerry Vess, the production floats successfully on a wave of amazing talented performers and incredible costumes. The show will brighten up your evening and take you on an exciting journey of love all across the deck of the ship – as Billy Crocker tries to prevent his true love from marrying a British millionaire. Add to the mix that Crocker is a stowaway on the ship when he’s supposed to be on Wall Street doing his tycoon boss’s bidding, and then he gets mixed up with public enemy number 13. And don’t forget world-renowned lounge singer Reno Sweeney and her Angels performing live to save saints and sinners alike. It’s an enchanting tale of love over the ocean that’s truly ‘de-lovely.’
The ship is enormous, grander than the titanic when you lay your eyes upon it. Set Designer Jerry Vess has crafted a magnificent gleaming white ship upon the stage complete with three wide black smoke stacks, and an upper deck, making this multi-dimensional play space come to life as the S.S. American. The forward walls spin to create internal rooms of the ship and the orchestra is cleverly concealed behind one of the high white walls. Vess implores nautical genius to this design and really creates the sensation of being on a large cruise liner at sea.
A beautiful array of stunning costumes outfit the cast making them every bit the elegant members of society they are meant to be. Costume Designer Meghan Bierne gives every bit of glitz and glamour to Reno Sweeney, each scintillating dress draped perfectly over her figure; from the formal black and white glittery evening ensemble that she first appears in to the more casual polka-dot deck dress when boarding, each outfit looks superior and really creates the stunning image of all the glory that should befit such a classy lounge singer. The other dresses for the women are equally as stunning and fun to look at, especially during the “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” number when the Angels don slinky red bugle bead gowns where every bead shimmies with every step they take.
This epic show is made even more sensational by the talented dancers and choreography by Hannah Thornhill. There is a high quality of intricate dance moves executed throughout the show, with large group numbers filling the stage with exciting movement. During “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” Thornhill lets Reno Sweeney lead the cast in a hot-footed swinging good time as they dance around the ship’s lounge with a razzle-dazzle flare. Thornhill and the cast’s most magnificent accomplishment is the intensive tap routine during “Anything Goes.” And for this particular performance the tap number was performed with gusto and grins all around as they tapped fiercely in synch straight through the rain as it began to downpour on the stage, never missing a beat and no one ever stopped smiling. This shows a superior level of commitment and dedication to the cast’s notion of: the show must go on.
Aboard any high seas voyage you get a cast of characters unlike any other and this is no exception. Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Jeff Sprague) graces the stage with his fruity eccentricity and flawless English accent. Sprague is every bit the reserved English gentleman doting on Americanisms with a flamboyant zest. His number “The Gypsy In Me” is a romantic comical riot as he lets loose a physical and vocal gypsy springing up from the depths of his core. The confusing dance that ensues with Reno in this scene is hysterical. An equal comic match to Sprague’s performance is Erma (Emily L. Sergo). Kicking up the swanky feeling as she flirts with the sailors her pouty attitude and sexual innuendos keep the audience giggling with glee. Her song “Buddie, Beware!” is a saucy mix of passion and comedy where she makes her naughty side more than known.
Stepping back from the crazy characters we have the characters who are crazy in love, Billy Crocker (Alex Trujillo) and Hope Harcourt (Katie Gardner.) Trujillo has a chummy relationship with Reno Sweeney and his duet rendition of “You’re The Top” is flirty and fun. The duo bounce around the stage with a perfect double follow spotlight which casts shadows against the white backing of the ship, creating a pair of fun dancers, one human and one silhouette, an added bonus to the effects of outdoor staging. When Trujillo pairs up to sing with Gardner their duets are melodious and romantic. Their upbeat jovial tones in “De-Lovely” spark romantic bliss throughout the show despite their struggle to get their love out in the open for one another.
Part of the fun of this show is the whacky gangster who’s hiding among the passengers on the ship. Moonface Martin (Nathan Bowen) public enemy number 13 stirs up some comical riots for the audience to enjoy. His signature line, “there’s something wrong here” gets delivered with effervescent energy every time its delivered. Cracking into song here and there Bowen makes the most of his devious cracked character. His duet with Reno “Friendship” is loaded with zingers and the pair really get into the fun spirit of ribbing and jabbing one another with the friendly insults. Bowen is the shining star of comic relief in this classical love story and presents a stunning performance.
And I’ve saved the best for last, the incomparable Reno Sweeney (Nicole Anderson) who simply shines like a beacon in the night with her incredible voice and extremely talented portrayal of the lounge singer. Her exuberant spirit flourishes in every move that she makes. She’s a sassy sweet talking romantic who just can’t keep her heart out of her mouth. When she bursts into song Anderson’s voice carries with vim and vigor, expressing each note like the excitement she feels in her heart. When she’s waxing nostalgically over New York City in “Take Me Back To Manhattan” her eyes are shining with memories, and she’s a great tapper when she leads the ensemble through “Anything Goes.” And Nicole sings the heaven out of “Blow, Gabriel, Blow.” Truly a gem on stage -Nicole Anderson is certainly ‘the top.’
You’ll get a kick out of this amazing production with the powerful ensemble and fantastic supporting cast. But don’t miss your chance to set sail with this limited engagement production as before you know it Anything Goes will have sailed right out of town.
Running Time: Approximately two hours and 30 minutes with one intermission. Intermission and running time varies on weather conditions. Shows subject to cancelation due to extreme weather conditions.
Anything Goes plays through June 24, 2012 at Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre – 143 Compromise Street, in Historic Waterfront of Annapolis, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 268-9212, or purchase them online.