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New Twist for Old Musical

Revamped 'Anything Goes' is sunny, witty, family-oriented.

November 09, 2000|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The increasing tendency of Broadway producers to revive vintage properties--especially musicals--can be regarded as less a tribute to the virtues of the past than an admission that there's little among today's scripts worth risking several million dollars to put on stage. Those same producers don't just revive old musicals, though, they revamp them--having new books written, adding or subtracting songs, and so on.

And so it is with "Anything Goes," ending its run this weekend at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza. The hit 1934 musical was changed for major revivals as long ago as 1962; a 1987 revival enjoyed the longest run of any Broadway production of the show. Its book (Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse's original script rewritten by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse before the first version ever hit Broadway) had been revised by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman, and several Cole Porter songs were added to the original Porter score.

(The same process was applied to the Gershwin musical "Girl Crazy," revived and retitled "Crazy for You" and now at the Conejo Players Theater.)

This "Anything Goes" is a sunny show, set on an Art Deco ocean liner in the early '30s. The story involves mistaken identity, mismatched couples, the idle rich and gangsters on the lam. What's not to like?

Katherine Lench stars as Reno Sweeney, a role created by Ethel Merman and based on real-life New York City saloon owner Texas Guinan. Sweeney is chasing after young stockbroker Billy Crocker (Robert Townsend), who in turn is trying to restart a brief fling with Hope Harcourt (Erin Appling Warden), the delicious daughter of his boss, Elisha Whitney (Gene Bernath), a proud Yale graduate who drinks too much. Harcourt is engaged to the stuffy Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Scott Guy). Somehow, all--including Hope's mother (Margaret Nesbit)--wind up on an ocean liner, where they soon become involved with a pair of crooks, Moonface Martin (Barry Pearl) and Erma (Danielle Barbosa).

The show has a vintage 1930s flavor, somewhere between a Fred Astaire movie and the Marx Brothers, with Nesbit in the traditional Margaret Dumont role. Lench polishes her brassy voice in a tribute to Merman, only this time around it's clear the young romantic leads Townsend and Warden are the show's focal points.

Comics Bernath, Guy, Pearl and Barbosa are pure, uncured hams--and in this case, that's a compliment. Alyson Reed, a seasoned director and choreographer, keeps things sprightly, and Cheryl Baxter receives credit for the show's big tap number. Nick DeGregorio conducts the live orchestra.

All in all, the show's a lot of fun, and suitable for the whole family without condescending to the kids.

DETAILS

"Anything Goes" continues at 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and concludes at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza auditorium, 2100 Thousand Oaks Blvd. Tickets range from $14 to $34, and may be purchased at the theater box office, at any Ticketmaster outlet or by phone at 583-8700. For groups of 12 or more, call Debbie at 497-8616. For more information, call 449-2787.

*

Joyce Guy is featured in "If I Knew Then . . .," the second in Theater 150's current series of one-person performances. An actress and dancer who grew up on the East Coast and lived for several years in Washington, D.C., she moved to Los Angeles to pursue her career in show business. At least that seems to be why she moved to L.A.; portions of her autobiography are pretty sketchy onstage, making her bio in the program notes recommended reading before she takes the stage.

Her performance, which includes projected images, occasional taped narration and lots of music, is more concerned with Guy's finding herself, which she eventually does, on a nicely recounted visit to Africa. As interesting and well-performed (under the direction of Denise Dowse) as "If I Knew" is, here's one show that, at just about an hour's running time, could easily accommodate another 15 minutes or so of transition, fuller descriptions of her string of boyfriends, and so on.

DETAILS

"If I Knew Then . . ." continues at 8 p.m. Friday through Sunday at Theater 150, 918 E. Ojai Ave. in Ojai. Tickets are $20 on Friday and Saturday evenings and two for $20 on Sunday. For reservations (strongly recommended) or further information, call 646-4300.

*

Note: Last week, the director of the Ojai Arts Center Theater Company's production of "The Fantasticks" was wrongly credited. He is Tom Eubanks.

Todd Everett can be reached at teverett@concentric.net.

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