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'Anything Goes' Treads a Circuitous Route

August 13, 1988|NANCY CHURNIN

SAN DIEGO — Cole Porter's "Anything Goes" has a title that really fits. The story about a shipwreck of society folks was originally written by Guy Bolton and P. G. Wodehouse. It was revised by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse in 1934 when a real shipwreck bled the humor from the story. It then became the tale about a broke stockbroker who stows away on a luxury boat to win his girl back from her wealthy English fiancee.

The score changed with the text and circumstance. Porter lost "Easy To Love" when the actor it was slated for couldn't sing it. People have rewritten the book and reshuffled the score ever since.

Now the Starlight Bowl has its version that has little to do with the current hit revival at the Vivian Beaumont Theater, which had little to do with the successful Off-Broadway version that opened in the 1960s, which didn't have much to do with the successful original.

Starlight has pulled Porter selections from all over the composer's stellar map. Some choices, like the timeless "Let's Do It" and "I've Got You Under My Skin," are so wonderful they would work anywhere, as do the Broadway additions, "It's Delovely" and "Friendship."

But other musical stowaways, such as "The Heaven Hop" (sung by a moll with a chorus that materializes abruptly) and "Take Me Back To Manhattan" (delivered by showgirl Reno Sweeney), seem to leap out of nowhere. Someone should give them a one-way ticket back to the Porter musicals "Paris" and "The New Yorkers," whence they came.

Maybe the title of the show should have a codicil: "Anything Goes, as long as it works."

Still the show has a lot of charm, thanks to an extraordinarily appealing cast who, under the spirited direction of Don and Bonnie Ward, seem to have fun with the show and one another.

Certainly, rewards should linger in theater heaven for those who keep their humor through the trials of the low-flying aircraft that freeze the action, and Starlight's new heavy body-miking that makes its own curious contribution to the static.

The choreography, also by the Wards, adds to the playfulness with its artful mix of ballroom, tap and vaudeville rhythms.

The dancing is played completely for laughs when tall and elegant Belle Calaway, who shines as the brassy Reno Sweeney, teams with Darryl Ferrera's marvelously befuddled Danny DeVito-sized gangster, for "Friendship."

Calaway and Sir Evelyn, the unlikely high-born man of her dreams, add a touch of lust to their teasing "Let's Do It" duet. But the mood is definitely romantic when David Ruprecht as stockbroker Billy Crocker woos the winsome Cynthia Ferrer as Hope Harcourt with "Delovely" Rogers and Astaire-style grace.

It's nearly enough to make one buy the literal paper moon of Virginia Lindsley's cartoon-like sets. Although the fantasy cut-outs, like Tara's costumes, would have been more fetching with bigger and brighter colors.

Two cartoons that one wishes "Anything Goes" could do without are the Chinese converts, dressed in coolie hats and braids, just as such parts were played in the '30s. They are integral to the plot, and marketing people for the Broadway production (which is also doing the play this way), say they have never gotten a complaint about this. But then, unlike this show, they have Chinese actors in other unstereotyped roles in the cast. It may be a comic convention, as the reasoning goes, but it treads an uncomfortable line.

But back to the fantasy. We do get the famous tap dancing sequence for the title song, brightly tapped by the company and lit by lighting designer Barbara Du Bois.

Only poor Valerie Harp as the moll, Bonnie, a joy every time she swishes and opens her New York-accented mouth, gets stung by the "Heaven Hop" song. She deserves better. And so does the show.

While this production will hardly be everything to everybody, it is true to its name in that almost "Anything Goes." With such riches, it is impossible to rummage through this jewelry box and not find something to love.

'ANYTHING GOES'

Music and lyrics by Cole Porter. Book by Guy Bolton and P. G. Wodehouse, Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse. Directed and choreographed by Don and Bonnie Ward. Costumes by Tara. Sets by Virginia Lindsley. Lighting by Barbara Du Bois. Musical direction by Milton Greene. Stage manager is John M. Galo. With Belle Calaway, David Ruprecht, Cynthia Ferrer, Valerie Harp, Darryl Ferrera, Charles Jackam, Cooper Neal, Louise Merrim, Michael Detroit, Andy Collins, Tony Gann, Jeff Teruel, Shea Wing, Reina Bolles, Lisa Kaine, Krysta Kennedy, Joyce Shumaker, Maximillian and Bridget. At 8 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday through Aug. 21. At the Starlight Bowl in Balboa Park.

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