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THEATER REVIEW

Score keeps `Anything Goes' afloat

Outstanding singing and choreography make this version of a Cole Porter classic quite enjoyable.

July 11, 2006|David C. Nichols | Special to The Times

Even audiences who get no kick from champagne may get tipsy over "Anything Goes" at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center in Long Beach. Cole Porter's classic 1934 musical receives a brashly entertaining Musical Theatre West revival.

Legend has it that original producer Vinton Freedley's ocean liner musical scuttled its shipwreck plot after the SS Morro Castle went down. Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse rewrote the outline that P.G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton fashioned for Ethel Merman and "Of Thee I Sing's" William Gaxton and Victor Moore. The resulting smash became a much-revised fixture of the form. In 1987, librettists Timothy Crouse and John Weidman refurbished "Anything Goes" for Patti LuPone, Howard McGillin and Bill McCutcheon, and director-choreographer Dan Mojica follows that Lincoln Center template here.

Set aboard the SS American, "Anything Goes" follows evangelist-turned-nightclub singer Reno Sweeney (Belle Calaway), whose yen for stock market whiz Billy Crocker (Kevin Earley) mirrors his pursuit of debutante Hope Harcourt (Melissa Fahn). She, her domineering mother (Allyce Beasley) and English fiance (Gordon Goodman) lead an array of zanies, including gangster Moonface Martin (John Massey Jr.), moll Erma (Lesli Margherita) and Billy's myopic boss (Karl Jaecke).

What floats "Anything Goes" is Porter's score, which gets the loving care that such standards as "I Get a Kick Out of You," "You're the Top" and the title song deserve. After an overture sleekly executed by musical director Diane King Vann's vintage Palm Court orchestra, Calaway delivers "I Get a Kick" with panache.

The winning Calaway plays Reno as an assured mixture of Olympia Dukakis, Chita Rivera and a Roman candle. Her laser-beam pipes land every lyric, and she joins the stellar corps in Mojica's top-notch choreography until you fear the stage will catch fire. She certainly strikes sparks with Earley's boyish Billy, whose ability to find nuance in musical shorthand remains rarefied. His lush baritone is in heavenly estate, and he manages some neat Fred-and-Ginger maneuvers with Fahn's appealing ingenue. Goodman lets his inner twit run wild, and Margherita's moll is a Bronx-voiced hoot.

True, the brassy Massey, though proficient, seems miscast as a character whose humor hinges on milquetoast incongruity, and the ever-daft Beasley is nobody's gorgon. Yet they and their colleagues have so much fun that we forgive Crouse and Weidman's self-referential book for retaining the stereotyped Chinese immigrants of 1934. Though times have changed, Porter hasn't, and his immortal songbook, with interpolations, buoys this voyage to Musical Comedy Land.

*

'Anything Goes'

Where: Carpenter Performing Arts Center, 6200 Atherton St., Long Beach

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays

Ends: July 23

Price: $25 to $50

Contact: (562) 856-1999, Ext. 4, or www.musical.org

Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes

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