A convoluted story of mis-matched lovers, gangsters, mistaken identities, public enemy No. 1 and No. 13, combine with a musical score by Cole Porter and lots to tap-routines to create the shipboard high seas mayhem of “Anything Goes,” now playing at the Jewish Community Theatre of Kansas City.
A marvelous production, Porter’s mid-1930s musical comedy brings light-hearted fun with some funny, eccentric characters that would never be found in the same social circles in a normal life. However, that zany mix creates laughs throughout the show. Stolen passports, a reformed sinner and her Angels, a gangster, a nearly-blind businessman, an English aristocrat comprise the passenger list as a luxury cruise leaves New York for the British Isles.
“Anything Goes” delivers laughs, smiles, great tap-dance numbers, vibrant costumes, great orchestration, several well-known songs, and a happy ending. What more could anyone want!
The J’s version of “Anything Goes” derives from the book by P.G. Wodehouse, Guy Bolton, Howard Lindsey, and Russel Crouse from the 1930s. The story, updated to a newer, fresher version in 1987 by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman, plays on The J’s stage. Filled with fun and antics, the story-line remains weak; and the characters lack depth, but no one cares as long as the show brings family-friendly entertainment to the masses.
Like all musicals under the direction of Tim Bair, “Anything Goes” features a cast of fabulously talented vocalists. Those following local theatre productions need no introduction to the caliber of talent Bair attracts to his productions.
“Anything Goes” reflects the early days of Broadway Book Musicals without a strong story, but enough entertainment to keep audiences involved throughout. This being the 1930s, Vaudeville was dying out and musical theatre replacing it. This early entry relies on some Vaudevillian skits kinda-sorta strung together with situations that would showcase comedians, singers, dancers and features to insure audience interest. What actors do with their parts keeps the show afloat. The cast of The J’s presentation make the show explode with their talent and performances.
Ethel Merman, the first Reno Sweeney, set a high bar for subsequent performers to match. Her belting style sets the tone for three of the signature songs in the musical. “Anything Goes,” “You’re the Top.” “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” demand a performer whose voice and stage presence can command the stage.
In The J’s version, Jennifer Renfrow, fills the bill with flair. Renfrow sings, acts, and dances the part with a commanding authority. This version of “Anything Goes” calls on the lead actress to also lead the big tap-dancing numbers. Again, Renfrow excels.
The male lead, Billy Crocker, ties several characters together and helps knit an intricate comedy plot. Played by D’Andre McKenzie, Billy has never sounded better. McKenzie’s voice blends well and stands out on his solos.
The mis-matched couple sailing to England to be married come to life through Ashton Botts and Matt Fowler. Both actors possess stellar voices and could carry any part in any musical. As the show begins, it’s obvious their marriage should not occur, but how it falls apart and how they find
a forever mate creates a major portion of the story. Botts get the chance to showcase her voice in a couple of numbers, while Fowler gets to show his comedic side more than his stunning voice. The two create a perfect mis-match and make the show more comical.
The other couple that really brings the comedy to the forefront are the on-the-lamb duo of Moonface and Bonnie, brilliantly played by Guy Gardner and Christina Coffey. The pair play their parts like a comedy team that might have done sketch comedy in the 30s. She’s a flashy mobster doll, and he’s an up-and-coming Public enemy. Their characters are funny and very likeable throughout the show. This dynamic duo controls the pace because they touch so many characters and glue the pieces of the plot together.
Most viewers will exit with a different favorite character and performance. I found Jennifer Renfrow the strongest character because she’s the triple treat in the show. She sings; she dances; she acts; and, she’s the main character. Favorite featured character, Guy Gardner as Moonface steals every scene. His timing, his delivery, his singing, his dancing cause the audience to focus on him whenever he walks on stage.
“Anything Goes” most definitely entertains and will sell out many performances. The show is a wonderful crowd pleaser. The Cole Porter music and the tap sequences will please any attendee. Do not delay securing tickets.
Technically, The J’s version is strong and sound. The most outstanding aspects are the orchestra, the choreography, and the costumes. Marsha Canady assembled a wonderful band that makes each song pop. Choreography by Kacy Christensen moves and excels. Every dancer looks like a trained professional under Christensen’s direction. And, from an aesthetic point of view. Fran Kupano-Kuzila sets a new standard. Bright colors, slinky fabric, and 30’s fashion gave her a broad brush for her creations. She dressed the Angles in Jean Harlow satins. Reno wears skin-tight fashions reflecting a colorful, dominant past.
The cast is: Jennifer Renfrow as Reno Sweeney, D’Andre McKenzie as Billy Crocker, Aston Botts as Hope Harcourt, Sarah Montoya as Mrs. Harcourt, Matt Fowler as Sir Evelyn, Guy Gardner as Moonface (Public Enemy # 13), Christina Coffey as Bonnie, Ray Zarr as Whitney, Jacob Jackson as Purser, Tom O’Rourke as Captain. Angels: Lora Sorenson, Taylor Hahner, Kameryn Behrend, Anna Nissen. Sailors: Jacob Jackson, Matthew Grigoratos, Jack Jones, Jerry Birts. Men’s Ensemble: Paul McArdle, Josh Arellano, Tristan Jacobson. Women’s Ensemble: Jennifer Weiman, Rachel Phillips, Jennifer Abate.
The production team is: Tim Bair, director/scenic designer; Marsha Canady, music director; Kacy Christensen, choreographer, Justin Dudzik, lighting designer; Jon Robertson, sound designer; Fran Kupono-Kuzila, costume designer; Bill Christie, props designer; Megan Segars, stage manager; Allie Hornbosbel, assistant stage manager; Kelli Harwood, Justin Dudzik, Megan Segars, scenic artists; Miranda Richardson, wardrobe mistress; Brittany Becker, stage crew; Justin Dudzik, Keith Wiedenkeller, follow spot operators; Kaleb Anderson, sound assistant. White Theatre staff: Keith Wiedenkeller, Director of Arts and Culture; Justin Dudzik, technical director;
Megan Segars, production stage manager, Liz Smith, box office manager, Joshua Gleeson, production assistant/master carpenter; Paul Adkins, Rhonda Kriwier, house managers.
The orchestra is: Marsha Canady, conductor/music director/piano; Shelby Miron, Kaitlyn McFadden, Joe Gall, Anne Sneller, Holly Hague, Will Peak, Andrew Beckstrom, Dan Graham, Andrea Rogers, Lee Finch, Tosh Watanabe, Kieran Ojakangas, Frank Annecchini, Jonnie Brice, John Gilmore.
The show runs weekends through Nov. 17 in The White Theatre in The Jewish Community Center of Kansas City. Tickets for “Anything Goes” and more information about the show can be found on The Jewish Community Center website.
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