Palo Alto Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - July 30, 2010

Toe-tapping good times

Foothill's 'Anything Goes' is a summertime confection

by Jeanie K. Smith

Cole Porter wrote a slew of songs that have become standards in the pop/jazz music canon, and a goodly percentage of them are in the wonderfully wacky show "Anything Goes," currently on stage at Foothill Music Theatre. Nothing deep here, just delightful music with intelligent lyrics performed by an excellent cast who are having a blast — which means you will, too.

Porter wrote the show in 1934, at the peak of the Great Depression, incorporating recent events such as the Crash. He also played on the American penchant for fawning over celebrities, be they gangsters or millionaires. Spoofs abound: of politics, economics, English nobility, love itself.

At heart, the show is a farce. Young broker Billy Crocker (Justin Buchs) is in love with debutante Hope Harcourt (Marisa Illo), who is slated for a shipboard wedding to a wealthy English earl, Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Tim Reynolds). Celebrated nightclub singer Reno Sweeney (Karen DeHart) has a hankering for Billy, so she's glad he shows up onboard the S.S. American for its sailing across the pond, even if he is chasing another girl.

Billy's boss, Elisha Whitney (John Musgrave), thinks Billy is still in New York handling a stock transaction for him, and wants to renew his relationship with Hope's mother, Evangeline (Carol Knouf). Meanwhile, gangster Moonface Martin (Walter M. Mayes) and his friend's moll, Erma (Mary Melnick), are attempting to evade police through disguise and disruption. Complicated enough yet? Oh, and add a boat-load of people looking for a celebrity to make their crossing exciting and put their ship on the map, gossip-wise.

All of this provides happy excuses for silliness and slapstick, as the characters hide, disguise and confuse themselves. Eventually they proclaim their real love and manage to mate up with the right people. Hey, it's a comedy, so you know it's going to happen; the fun is in seeing all the zany plot turns along the way in order to make it so.

Director Jay Manley has assembled a terrific cast of local favorites and newcomers to the FMT stage. DeHart, as Sweeney, sails her way through the role, belting "Blow, Gabriel, Blow" or smartly delivering "I Get a Kick Out of You" with equal ease. She matches well with Reynolds as the earl she falls for, and their scenes together are a hoot. Reynolds seems a little wasted in his role at first, but when he gets more stage time in Act Two, he makes up for it with wild abandon, especially in "The Gypsy in Me."

Newcomer Buchs is a standout as Billy, crooning and dancing with liquid verve, reminding one — dare I say? — of the young Fred Astaire. His duets with DeHart and Illo are highlights: "You're the Top," "Easy to Love" and "It's De-Lovely" among them. The famous trio, "Friendship," that he sings with DeHart and Mayes is sharply done, and great fun. He's definitely a performer to watch.

Mayes shows off his recognized comic chops as Moonface, and here reveals his superior singing and dancing as well. His solo, "Be Like the Bluebird," is often cut from productions, and he shows us why it shouldn't be. Illo does well with a somewhat thankless ingenue role, possessing a lovely lyric soprano and the requisite willowy figure.

The ensemble has chops, too: real depth of talent that shines in the large group numbers. There's no weak link, but notables include Robyn Winslow, Doug Brees, Stephen Boisvert, Reno's "Fallen Angels," and the Sailor Quartet.

The set design by Joe Ragey crisply evokes a ship's deck with various levels and the requisite doors for farce action, and shifts scenes easily. Kurt Landisman's lighting design makes bold color choices to emphasize the comic and fantastical elements in the show.

Janis Bergmann has her hands full with multiple costumes for every performer, and for the most part they're suitable for the period and utilize a different color palette for each big scene. A few of DeHart's costumes are oddly unflattering, which puzzles since she's such a big lead. Ruth E. Stein also has a massive undertaking in properties design, and mostly succeeds, apart from wobbly champagne glasses.

Minor quibbles with an enjoyable evening's entertainment, perfect for summer amusement — and chasing away the blues.

What: "Anything Goes," by Cole Porter, presented by Foothill Music Theatre

Where: Foothill College's Smithwick Theatre, 12345 El Monte Road, Los Altos Hills

When: Through Aug. 15, with 8 p.m. shows Thursday through Saturday and 2 p.m. matinees on Sundays

Cost: Tickets are $10-$26.

Info: Go to http://www.foothillmusicals.com or call 650-949-7360.

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